21 Oct 2015

Teenage Taranaki tennis star Ajeet Rai has fulfilled a decade long dream.

After a fortnight when he won three International Tennis Federation titles, Rai has taken over the No 1 New Zealand junior ranking for under-18 players.

The 16-year-old New Plymouth Boys' High School student teamed up with Hawke's Bay's Rob Reynolds to win the ITF doubles titles in Auckland and Hamilton.

He then beat Reynolds, 18, to win the singles title in straight sets at the Waikato-Bays tournament on Sunday.

"This has been our milestone since he was five," father Rakesh Rai said. "The other milestone was always to see if he could win a singles title at ITF level and at what age."

Because Rai has been a late developer in terms of growth, he was constantly playing guys who were a lot taller than him.

However, in the last six months he has grown at least 5cm and was now on a more even keel with his older competitors.

"The results have become immediate," Rai said. "Although he is still not as big as some of the guys he has been able to add dimensions to his game. He can serve
a little bit quicker, he's faster getting to the net and getting out of corners and his ground strokes have picked up a considerable amount of speed."

Ajeet has also found he was mentally stronger.

"I can handle pressure a lot better now," he said. "It hasn't come overnight but I've come to realise getting angry just doesn't work. I've found I can now think clearly under pressure."

He dedicated the ITF singles win to the late Bill Geange who was his former tennis master at school before he passed away recently.

"He was the first teacher who contracted me to Boys' High and was a big part of my whole schooling life. He always remained positive and made my injuries look so small and nothing that I should complain about."

His No 1 ranking would open up opportunities for him at tournaments around the world.

"Any closed championships that they have in Oceania or Asia, when New Zealand send only one player, I'll be it."

He would also get straight into the main draw at the Orange Bowl in Miami, one of the most prestigious junior tournaments in the world.

As has become normal for him in recent years, Ajeet was about to head overseas, with his first tournament a grade two ITF event in Bangkok where he was seeded in the top 16.

From there he heads to the ICC Cup in Singapore and then onto the B1 Asia/Oceania tournament in South Korea.

He will then return to New Zealand for a week before he heads to the United States for coaching sessions with Christian Groh.

The year will then be rounded off with two tournaments in Mexico before he returns to New Zealand for the national junior championships in Auckland.