17 May 2012

Ajeet Rai's life changes forever today.

The New Plymouth teenage tennis star will travel to Florida with his father Rakesh for a three-week camp at the prestigious IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy.

If you haven't heard of the school, chances are you've heard of some of its past pupils; Serena and Venus Williams, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, the leggy Maria Sharapova.

And if all progresses according to plan the name Ajeet Rai will one day join that list.

The school is almost compulsory for those embarking on a career in professional tennis.

"They will be working me really hard and hopefully I will get better day by day. They will be trying to make me a better player and it's part of what I have to do to progress as a player," Ajeet said yesterday.

The 13-year-old tennis player has already progressed about as far as he can go here. He's made New Zealand age group sides, proved a dominant force in interschool exchanges in just his first year of high school and regularly trains in Australia.

When his clinic starts on Monday he will be the first New Zealander invited to train at the academy, his place care of an impressive showing in front of a senior Bollettieri coach in Melbourne last year.

"When we got home I had an email from them saying they would like to have a conference call with us about our son," said his father and coach Rakesh.

"They liked his technique, the way he played, his personality. They wanted to give him the opportunity to come to Bollettieri, which is the breeding ground of champions."

With the training paid for by tennis equipment company Prince the three-week intensive course could be the start of turning Ajeet into a professional tennis player.

If the coaches and Prince representatives like what they see he could be invited to join the Prince team, a opportunity that would put him on the road for five months a year, competing at international level week after week.

"I thought it would make him nervous," Rakesh said. "I thought it would really get to him but it didn't. He just takes it in his stride. I asked him 'do you feel stress and pressure'. He looked at me and said 'No. Is that wrong, am I supposed to feel it?"'