New Zealand’s top men’s tennis player has retrieved his custom-made racquets following days of anxious waiting after they went missing on an Emirates Airlines flight days before he begins preparations for a Davis Cup clash.
Flying home after a tournament in Kazakhstan, Ajeet Rai had a two-hour transit in Dubai. After landing at Auckland Airport on Saturday, he noticed his bags – which contained six racquets and other tennis equipment valued at $6000 – didn’t come through on the carousel and started to panic.
Five days later, and after multiple attempts to contact the airline, Rai has been left without any answers as to when his bags and equipment might arrive. The 24-year-old even took to his 9000 followers on Instagram, tagging the airline and asking for tips on how to get through.
On Friday, Rai and Emirates confirmed to the Herald that his gear arrived at his home in Taranaki while he was travelling to Auckland for a final hit out.
Set to leave for China next week for three ATP tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai before he returns to Invercargill for New Zealand’s Davis Cup clash next month against Thailand, Rai was forced to train without his usual gear – using an old racquet he had at home in Taranaki.
“It’s definitely a stressful time, but [I’m] just trying to control what I can control,” Rai said.
He said he was constantly trying to get through to Emirates, however didn’t have the whole day to wait on hold.
“I’ve still got to train and get my work done,” he said.
Rai emphasised the situation was not simply a matter of buying new things.
“It’s the strings, it’s the equipment; the tension machine I use to check the tension of my strings.”
He gets his custom-made racquets delivered in batches of six to 10 at a time, with a few deliveries each year. Rai is sponsored by the tennis brand Head, and said his racquets “all look the same; all painted the same”.
“They test you for the spin you can generate on the ball, the pace you can generate. Different string patterns, different sizes of the head – they tailor a racquet exactly for you. It literally fits your hand like a glove.
On Wednesday, Rai said: “Now that I’ve lost these racquets, I am missing a rotation of racquets, and even if they wanted to get me racquets, they can’t possibly be here by next Thursday before I leave,” he said.
“I guess it happens to everyone, but it’s just more annoying when your equipment is those things that you use every single day. It’s not just a shirt or a pair of shorts... it’s your actual working tools.
“It’s hard enough to win ATP tournaments and ATP matches against the best players in the world, and to do it without your racquet is even harder.”
Rai was relieved his racquets arrived in time before he left on the next tour. If they didn’t arrive in time, he had plans to use his old racquets – despite being contracted by Head – painting them black to avoid any sponsorship conflicts.