Davis Cup: NZ number one Ajeet Rai will play opening singles rubber

Friday, 03 February 2023

Newly installed New Zealand number one Ajeet Rai will play the opening singles rubber against Bulgaria’s Alexandar Lazarov in this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group 1 Playoff on the hard courts at Wilding Park in Christchurch.

The draw – held at Botanic Christchurch in the CBD – sees Rai, who recently pulled off the biggest win of his career over world #92 Taro Daniel in ASB Classic qualifying at Auckland, pitted against the 25 year old Lazarov who sits just outside the top 300.

The second singles rubber will see New Zealand’s winningest Davis Cup singles player Rubin Statham up against the top ranked player Bulgaria have at their disposal in world number #192 Dimitar Kuzmanov. Kuzmanov has won six of his last seven matches in Davis Cup.

A testimony to Statham’s longevity and history in Davis Cup, he’s now in a position to surpass Parun’s mark with most wins (singles/doubles combined)which was reached in the halcyon days where New Zealand played the bulk of their ties against the worlds best teams.

Team captain Kelly Evernden is fully aware of the task at hand.

“I don’t think we’re favoured to win, but we have a chance to go out there and do what New Zealanders are capable of doing and pulling off an underdog upset,” Evernden said.

“I know Canterbury crowds from the past have been pretty raucous and one sided, and we’re hoping for that to be the case this time. We’ve had some great memories here, so maybe we can create another one.”

New Zealand’s formidable doubles pairing of Michael Venus and Artem Sitak will open proceedings on Sunday against Alexander Donski and Petr Nesterov.

Rai is pencilled in to take on Kuzmanov and Statham to face Lazarov in the reverse singles – although this is subject to change depending on how the opening day unfolds. KP Pannu is on standby should he be required.

The tie gets underway at midday tomorrow (Saturday) with the winner advancing to World Group 1 and the loser dropping to World Group 2. Tennis fans can watch the action live on Sky Sport Channel 4 on both days.

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