Japan in elite zone

Japan's head coach Eiji Takeuchi is tossed up in the air after the team's thumping victory over India.-AP

Vishnu Vardhan made an impressive Davis Cup debut but failed to win as an injury-hit India was relegated to the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I after losing the World Group play-off tie 1-4 to Japan, in Tokyo.

Playing in the first reverse singles, with a must win situation, in place of an injured Somdev Devvarman, 456th-ranked Vishnu Vardhan lost 5-7, 3-6, 3-6 against world number 55 Kei Nishikori, handing the host an unassailable 3-1 lead.

Later, Rohan Bopanna conceded the dead fifth rubber against Go Soeda after leading 5-4, due to a foot injury. Japan was thus promoted to the elite 16-nation World Group after a gap of 26 years.

India, which had triumphed 18 times in the 21 previous ties against Japan, started as the favourite against the host but injuries let the team down.

India arrived without top doubles player Leander Paes, who was ruled out due to back spasm he suffered during the U. S. Open, then lost the services of Somdev because of a shoulder strain and finally Bopanna encountered a toe problem and could not complete his match.

India came to the play-off stage after losing the World Group first round to reigning champion Serbia. Thanks to the doubles win of Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna, India was afloat in the tie after Somdev and Bopanna had lost both the singles matches.

India needed Somdev badly and his unavailability hit the team hard.

Results — Japan beat India 4-1

First singles: Yuichi Sugita bt Somdev Devvarman 6-3, 6-4, 7-5; Kei Nishikori bt Rohan Bopanna 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Doubles: Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita lost to Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4/7). Reverse singles: Kei Nishikori bt Vishnu Vardhan 7-5, 6-3, 6-3; Go Soeda bt Rohan Bopanna 4-5 (Bopanna conceded the match).