Edmonton: India's hopes to get a point on the opening day of the Davis Cup tie against Canada received a boost with Ramkumar Ramanathan drawn to play against debutant Brayden Schnur even as Saketh Myneni was dropped from the squad due to fitness concerns.
Ramkumar, ranked 154, will open India's campaign at the World Group Play-off tie against the 22-year-old Schnur, ranked 202 while Yuki Bhambri will play a crucial second singles against world number 51 and Canada's biggest hope Denis Shapovalov.
The Canadian team did not field Vasek Pospisil, world number 82, for the singles, probably since he is going through a rough patch of late.
Pospisil is coming into the tie after five straight losses on the ATP Tour. Interestingly, during Canada's last tie against Great Britain, it was Pospisil, who had won both his singles rubbers.
India's non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi was forced to pair Rohan Bopanna with Purav Raja instead of Myneni, whose fitness to last five sets has come under scanner.
Bopanna and Raja, who will play only his second Davis Cup tie, will take on seasoned Daniel Nestor and Pospisil.
Raja was brought into the team last minute as a reserve player when N Sri Ram Balaji, one of the two reserves named initially in the squad, twisted his ankle during the training camp in New York.
On the final day, Yuki will take on Schnur and Ramkumar will lock horns with Shapovalov in the reverse singles.
Bhupathi said the draw has come out exactly they wanted.
"The draw is favourable. We were expecting Schnur to play Friday and wanted Ram to start," Bhupathi told PTI after the draw.
Asked to explain change in nomination for the doubles rubber on Saturday, the Indian captain said,
"Doubles we feel, this is our best team keeping in mind Saketh not yet physically ready to play a tough five set match."
Myneni, who recently returned to competitive tennis after recovering from a foot injury, had also pulled out of the tie against New Zealand in Pune at the last minute and then captain Anand Amritraj was forced to give an SOS call to Vishnu Vardhan to pair with Leander Paes.
The tall Myneni had also missed the next tie against Uzbekistan and Bopanna teamed up with Balaji.
Bhupathi said having a camp in New York ahead of the tie proved good as they could assess the fitness of the players.
"It was a good call or we would have had problems The camp was an important aspect to this tie to gauge fitness levels and confidence of the players."
The Indian team is making is fourth straight attempt to make it to the elite 16-nation World Group, having lost to
Serbia (2014), Czech Republic (2015) and Spain (2016) in the Play-offs in the last three years.
Bhambri, ranked 154, has an onerous task to get a point from world number 51 Shapovalov, who is in red-hot form, having beaten the likes of Rafael Nadal, Jo Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro recently.
"I have been playing well all year so yes definitely confident but it's still a tough match tough conditions with the crowd against and a good opponent. I have played a lot of lefties in my career so more about adapting to the style. It's a tough match against a top-50 player. I will have to be at my best to be able to pull this one off," Yuki told PTI.
India's coach Zeeshan Ali said it was prudent call to not have Myneni for the crucial doubles rubber.
"Saketh hasn't played too many matches coming into this match and was a bit rusty. So playing Purav was the next best option and one that we felt gave us the best chance in doubles," he said.