Tennis: Veteran Rubin Statham returns to New Zealand Davis Cup team to play Bulgaria

The New Zealand Davis Cup team to play Bulgaria in Christchurch next month features the return of the country's most experienced Davis Cup player Rubin Statham.

Since his 2004 debut, Statham, 35, has played the most ties (33) and has won more singles matches (28) than any other New Zealander.

He made himself unavailable for last September's tie in Finland, but returns to compete with Ajeet Rai and KP Pannu to play the singles rubbers.

Statham reached the quarter-finals at the Noumea ATP Challenger tournament last week and beat 171st-ranked Geoffrey Blancaneaux, before narrowly losing to 172nd-ranked Laurent Lokoli.

Captain Kelly Evernden felt the competition for the two singles spots would bring out the best in Statham, Rai and Pannu.

"I am happy to have Rubin be a part of the team after missing the Finland tie," said Evernden. "He is excited to play in NZ and his history with Davis Cup speaks for itself."

Rai will look to build on his strong showing at the ASB Classic, where he beat Japan's world No.92 Taro Daniel in the first round of qualifying, before losing to 71st-ranked Thiago Monteiro in a tight three-set match.

Pannu who won the ASB Classic wildcard playoff and the ITF World Tour event at Papamoa would have learnt plenty from his ASB Classic match against former world No.7 and eventual tournament champion Richard Gasquet.

"Lately, the younger members have been showing some grit and higher quality tennis that has begun to build some belief in their abilities going forward," said Evernden. "Ajeet and KP have both won tournaments and played inspired tennis at the ASB.

"Hopefully, we can continue this momentum during our training prior to the Christchurch tie, which will include a wider practice squad, including Jack Loutit, Corban Crowther and Finn Reynolds." 

Top-ranked doubles player Michael Venus (14) will again partner Artem Sitak (132) with Venus' Tokyo Olympics bronze medal-winning partner Marcus Daniell still sidelined by injury.

Bulgaria's top-ranked player is world No.29 Grigor Dimitrov, but he has not played Davis Cup for several years and may not make himself available for the tie.