A charged up V M Ranjeet put up a spirited fight before losing while Vijayant Malik suffered a tame defeat as India, without its top players, lost the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie against South Korea 1-4 in New Delhi on Sunday.
Ranjeet fought gallantly in the do-or-die fourth rubber before losing 4-6, 4-6, 2–6 to Suk-Young Jeong, who is ranked 190 places above him at 321, after battling for two hours and 32 minutes in the first reverse singles of the day.
Later, Malik, who was expected to earn hosts a consolation win, went down 2-6 4-6 against debutant Ji Sung Nam in the inconsequential fifth rubber.
After Leander Paes and Purav Raja's doubles win on Saturday, India needed to win both the matches to advance to the second round.
It's the first time in seven years that India have lost a home tie. In September 2005 India had lost 1-3 to Sweden in the World Group play-off at the same venue.
The Korean singles players were far superior to the Indians but Ranjeet won many a heart by putting up a decent fight on the slow centre court of the R K Khanna Tennis stadium.
India had a very good chance to win this tie but for unavailability of 11 top players, the advantage of playing at home against a manageable opponent was lost.
Sanam Singh, one of the players in the rebel group, watched from the stands as Ranjeet fought for India's cause.
Now India face Indonesia in the first-round play-off tie from April 5-7 at home and it will be interesting to see if the standoff between the rebel players and AITA ends and the country is able to field its A team.
An emotionally charged up Ranjeet, eager to prove a point or rather determined to redeem his and India's pride, gave his all from the word go.
He had managed to win just two games in his debut match against Cho on day one, and so when he held his serve in the very first game of the match the joy and relief was palpable.
The 2008 national champion backed himself, cheered himself on and celebrated each and every point he won by pumping his fist or waving his racquet towards his team-mates who were egging him on.
Going by the experience on day one, the 27-year-old Chennai lad knew that engaging the Korean in long rallies would not work, so he tied to cut down the number of shots in the rallies by playing angled shots, looking for winners.
The strategy worked very well for him and the opening set was on serve till the eight game. But he survived three break chances in the fifth in the process.
However, the Korean kept it simple and never let the Indian dominate or impose on him. With scoreboard reading 4-4, Ranjeet, eyeing that elusive break, went for some extravagant shots by attacking Jeong's serve but strategy did not work and he was down 0-40 facing three break chances.
An unforced error from Ranjeet, a forehand return kissing the net, meant that Korean got the first break of the match and he served out the set in the next game after a good 57-minute battle.
Jeong stepped up and broke Ranjeet in the very first game of the second set to gain upper hand. But Ranjeet refused to give up and he broke Jeong in the sixth to level the scores.
Ranjeet handed the advantage to Jeong in the ninth game again by dropping his serve and the Korean served out the set for a 2-0 lead.
A break of serve at the start of the third set again handed the cushion to Jeong. Defeat was looming large but Ranjeet kept fighting but that only delayed the inevitable.
A double fault by Ranjeet while down a breakpoint pushed Jeong nearer to the win and the Korean sealed the match and the tie when Ranjeet sent a backhand long.