Court appearance

Saturday October 19, 2019 Written by Published in Sports
Tennis coach Malcolm Kajer shares a light moment with a kid at his junior coaching clinic at National Tennis Court in Nikao. 19101812 Tennis coach Malcolm Kajer shares a light moment with a kid at his junior coaching clinic at National Tennis Court in Nikao. 19101812

He’s strong, he’s solid, he’s forthright. Malcolm Kajer wanted to be a wrestler – but instead, tennis whacked him round the ears. Rashneel Kumar hits around a few ideas with him.Malcolm Kajer is a man on a mission.

 

For the past 30 years, he has been working hard on the local tennis courts, breeding the next generation of tennis superstars.

This in a hope of unearthing and moulding the first Cook Islander to break into the professional tennis circuit.

“It has always been my dream to get someone from the Cook Islands into professional ranks but you need a player who is mentally up for it because it’s so tough,” Kajer said.

Cook Islands doesn’t lack talent when it comes to sports.

Tennis in particular draws a lot of young and raw players who have been thriving under the leadership and coaching of Kajer.

But he is yet to find that special one who will fulfil his lifelong dream training a professional tennis player.

“Well I have completed 30 years, the plan is to go for another 30 years. Never know, there is someone out there who may be able to fulfil my dream.”

 

Kajer could have been a wrestler. Probably a good one.

But destiny had something else in store for him.

Tennis chose Kajer.

When he was 12, he went to see rugby Sevens competition in the 1985 Pacific Mini Games which was held at Raemaru Park. The tennis games were also being played there.

“Instead of watching rugby Sevens, I went over to the tennis court and got hooked into that game. That’s how it all started,” says the 46-year-old Kajer.

“I played tennis for six months, every Saturdays from 8am to 8pm. I sometimes sneaked into the court on Sundays until I was chased by the priest. I ended up winning the Inter-Schools boys singles C grade competition. Four months later, I won the national under-12 boys title, beating players who had been playing for years.”

The following year, Kajer left for New Zealand, joining the Marist Brothers School in Ponsonby, Auckland.

“There was no tennis played at the school then so I decided to take up wrestling. I became the Auckland champion in the 49-51kg category and was selected to represent Auckland at the National Championship.”

The National Championship could have been Kajer’s next big step towards his budding wrestling career.

But it didn’t eventuate.

Kajer’s grandfather got sick so he had to return back to Mitiaro, leaving his school and flourishing wrestling career behind.

“I cried and cried, but I had no choice. I wanted to compete badly in the nationals,” Kajer says.

Back on the island, Kajer had to resort back to tennis. But this time, things were a bit different.

Sometimes we would have 20 courts on the road,” says Kajer.

“This is where my tennis really began. It sort of gave me the grassroots to the coordination.”

A year later, he got back to Rarotonga and then to New Zealand where he continued playing tennis with the West End Tennis Club.

In 1989 when he returned back to Rarotonga, he joined the Edgewater Tennis Club training under a New Zealand-based coach Peter Fletcher.

“I was helping him with the junior coaching classes on Saturday. He had to go back to New Zealand and I was meant to take over the coaching for a while. He was supposed to come back in a month but never returned. So I continued from where he left.”

Kajer’s coaching career had begun.

 

Coaching in the Cook Islands where resources are scare could be massive challenge.

But after doing it for so many years, Kajer knows how to manage with “so little to achieve big”.

“Getting to older age, it gets more difficult energy wise. I don’t have the energy I used to back in the 20s and 30s. I have done a lot before and it’s getting to the point where it’s wearing you down.

“I have to deal with the little ones, say three to four years, then I have to change and deal with the mid ones then find energy for my elite ones who are doing so well overseas. There are rarely any coaches who are doing that nowadays,” Kajer says.

But it’s the success of the youngsters that keeps him going.

“When you see someone who comes to the court without knowing anything about the game and starts playing some good tennis, it brings smiles to my face. At times I known to be a tough coach, and sometimes it’s more like I want to win more than the kids.

“It’s satisfying to see the kids I have coached are doing so well in the sport and in their lives. I now coach the kids of the kids I have coached, this makes me even prouder.”

Life could have been different for Kajer, if he had a chance to show his wrestling prowess at the New Zealand Nationals 30 years ago.

But he holds no regrets. “After 30 years of coaching these young and the new breed of tennis players, I have no regrets. I’m happy here.”

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