Rai in Junior Davis Cup team
Ajeet Rai has made the three-man New Zealand side for the Junior Davis Cup in Malaysia.
The 15-year-old New Plymouth Boys' High School student received confirmation he had made the team this week, although Tennis New Zealand has yet to publicly confirm the make up of the squad.
The Junior Davis Cup format is restricted to under-16 players. New Zealand will be one of 16 teams vying from the Asia/Oceania group to make the world group play-offs in Mexico. The top two counties will qualify.
Rai, who will also be eligible to play in the side next year, was confident New Zealand could qualify.
"We are all of similar strength, we know how each other play and we should make a good team," he said.
Rai's coach, father Rakesh, described his son's selection as the pinnacle for a junior tennis player in New Zealand.
"We have had congratulatory messages from the head of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, as well as from Europe yesterday morning because this is rated very, very highly," he said.
Rai has already represented New Zealand at under-12 and under-14 level. The Junior Davis Cup will be the second time he has played at Kuching in Malaysia, the last being in 2012 at the World Youth Cup.
He became the youngest ever winner of the Taranaki Open when he beat Cameron Koch 6-3 6-4 in the final in December and has been relying on club tennis to keep him sharp over the last few weeks after playing in the national under-18 tournament in Christchurch in January, where he defeated top Australian age-group player Kody Pearson in three sets.
Rai will line up in the Soffe Cup final today at No 2 behind brother Amrit for Huatoki against Manaia.
He overcame his semifinal opponent, Oakura's Len Adamson, 6-1 6-1, despite damaging his fingers in a training accident a few days beforehand. "I thought I'd broken them," he said. "It hurt that much. I could only just bend my fingers at the weekend but I had to play, even though I was struggling to hold the racquet."
Post this weekend, Rai's training would be ramped up, with his father keen to work on improving a couple of specific shots before they head to Malaysia.
"I want to make sure we can close the door on a couple of weaknesses and strengthen him up," Rakesh Rai said.
"We've been very lucky we could spend time with one of our friends, Wimbledon champion Richard Kraijicek, in Miami in December and he also identified a couple of areas to work on for Ajeet.
"So we've come up with a strategy and a plan. We have already been working solidly for a month and we will continue to work on his leg strength because Ajeet has been a late grower."