Prodigy: Kai Milburn

A 12-year-old Queenstowner is making a bit of a racket in New Zealand tennis circles.

Kai Milburn last month won Tennis NZ’s junior masters 12-and-under title, and next month plays for NZ’s 12s team at the Aussie hardcourt nationals in Melbourne.

Remarkably, Kai needed a wildcard entry into the masters, in Wellington, as he’s usually playing older boys or adults in Queenstown, to get competition.

He wiped the court in his five matches, losing only five games and winning his final, 6-1 6-1.

He has the advantage of growing up with tennis – he’s coached by his dad, Mark, who’s a long-time Queenstown Tennis Club coach.

He also has very talented brothers pushing him – Dan, 11, and Noa, 9. With his mother, Takako, being Japanese, he’s also benefited from stints training and playing in Japan. He even made the Japanese 10-and-under side for a tournament in South Korea.

Mark says Japan’s Davis Cup coach is keen to check him out when he comes over next year.

Kai’s circumstances mirror those of local tennis pro, Ben McLachlan, who plays for Japan courtesy of his mum’s Japanese nationality.

Interestingly, Mark thinks Kai’s probably a little better than McLachlan at the same age, though says it’s hard to compare.

Mark says his son’s come on this year as he’s got bigger and stronger.

“The hard work’s starting to pay off.

“He’s got a good all-round game and he’s quick, so he gets lots of balls back, and he doesn’t mind coming to the net and finishing points.”

Mentally, he’s strong, too, often winning deuce games in Wellington.

In the NZ 12s team, he’s ranked second to a boy who didn’t play at that tournament.

Besides his Melbourne trip, Kai’s also playing the national 12s and 14s in Auckland next month.

Mark – who’s only lost once to his son, in a practice set – says it’s important Kai keeps his head on his shoulders.

“We know he’s good by NZ standards, but we’ve got to look internationally, as well, and we’re always a little bit slower to develop.”