Sumit Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan played their hearts out in the reverse singles contests but couldn’t stop the inevitable. The hosts were handed a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of five-time champions Spain, who would return with their pride intact and a place in the cherished Davis Cup World Group.
India, who returned empty handed from their third World Group play-off, will now return to Asia-Oceania Group 1.
Nagal, making his Davis Cup debut, had done well to fightback from the opening set loss to push the match into the decider. He was quick to break Lopez in the opening game of the third set, got the crowd singing his name, but got afflicted with breathing problems just when India had begun to twiddle their toes in happy anticipation of winning their first point in the tie.
The 19-year-old, who took a medical timeout at deuce in the second game, had to save a total of six break points to consolidate. He did manage to compose a 3-0 lead, with a double break, to further boost the hopes of a win against mighty Spain. But Nagal was at discomfort and lost six games in a row to go down 3-6, 6-1, 3-6.
“Sumit developed breathing issues which became worst towards the end and he could barely move. This shows how quick Spaniards are. Marc after playing four intense sets yesterday, played three more today. It shows we need to work on our fitness more than anything else,” said captain Anand Amritraj.
“I thought I played really well. Hope I will do better next time,” said Nagal.
Ramkumar, playing the second reverse singles, was superb in patches but then World No 13 David Ferrer didn’t entertain him for long to cut his stay to 2-6, 2-6 defeat.
Regardless, Nagal, who has set up base in Germany where he trains at Schuttler Waske Tennis Academy, gave a promising account of himself against Rio Olympic gold medallist in doubles. He impressed with his big game, his fluent groundstrokes finding the corners, and he covered the court with his athletic sprints.
He, though, struggled to find his rhythm in the opening set to be broken early and though he had breakpoints to draw level, he plunged into a stream of errors to fall behind. He, however, mounted a brilliant comeback in the second set, as he discovered sting in his serve and power-packed groundstrokes.
It was now Lopez’s turn to be ill at ease and he couldn’t pocket more than one game to make it a set-all. With momentum with Sumit, he attacked Lopez’s serve straighaway, before being hampered by the breathing issue. In the second match, Ferrer was as authoritative on court as ever. To his credit, Ramkumar did break his serve early in the second game. The 21-year-old’s huge serve and scorching returns, albeit far and few, entertained a sizeable crowd that decided to stay back but that was all he there was to it.
This World Group play-off tie had centred around Rafael Nadal. The euphoria surrounding 14-time Grand Slam champion refused to die down till Sunday. An excited voice would invariably be heard calling out his name. However, Indian players with their effort could claim to carve out a bit of space in the hearts of fans, too.