Tokyo: Vishnu Vardhan made an impressive Davis Cup debut but failed to win as an injury-hit India were relegated to the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I after losing the World Group play-off tie 1-4 to Japan on Sunday.
Coming into the must-win first reverse singles, in place of an injured Somdev Devvarman, 456th ranked Vardhan lost 5-7, 3-6, 3-6 against world number 55 Kei Nishikori, handing the hosts 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 were thus promoted to the elite 16-nation World Group after a gap of s26 years.
India, who had triumphed 18 times in the 21 previous ties against Japan, had started favourites against the hosts but injuries let them down.
India arrived here without top doubles player Leander Paes, who was ruled out due to back spasm he suffered during the US Open, then lost 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 champions Serbia and will now yet again strive in the Asia-Oceania Group I in the 2012 season.
Thanks to the doubles win of Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna, India were afloat in the tie after Somdev and Bopanna had lost both the singles on Friday.
India needed Somdev badly today and his unavailability hit the visitors hard.
It was an enormous responsibility to fill in the shoes of Somdev but Vardhan did show the stomach for fight although he could not maintain the intensity with which he presented his challenge early on.
The 24-year-old Vardhan made all the right moves right from the word go. Nervous he might have been but it did not show in his game initially.
Vardhan did not look like a debutant as he made a player of Nishikori's ability to work hard for his points and engaged him in the battle for two hours and 10 minutes.
Vardhan's impressive game, especially the double-handed backhand coupled with good serve and composure, reduced the ranking difference to a mere statistics, at least in the first set.
The first break of serve came as late as in the 11th game of the first set as Vardhan went neck and neck with Nishikori in the first 10 games.
Facing a breakpoint, Vardhan approached the net but Nishikori cashed in on the chance by smashing a forehand past the Indian and then held his own in the next to take the set.
As Nishikori stepped up the pressure, the Indian was again staring a break in the first game of the second set but saved both the chances.
Nishikori kept opening the lead and succeeded in breaking Vardhan in the third game, which eventually put him ahead 5-3 by the eighth game.
The Indian saved first of the three set points before double faulting on the second to hand a 2-0 lead to Nishikori.
Vardhan was still fighting and saved two match points in the eighth game of the third set, having suffered an early break, but that was not good enough and Nishikori had no problem in ensuring Japan's passage to World Group after 26 years.