India are unlikely to be playing in the highest stage of the Davis Cup any time soon, not unless they can produce singles players who can be competitive with the best in the world. That was the blunt assessment of India's non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi after his side were beaten 3-1 by Italy in the Davis Cup qualifier in Kolkata on Saturday.
"I think everyone needs to live in the real world," he said. "When the teams for the World Cup finals are decided I want everyone to check how many players of ours are in the top hundred. Tennis is one of the most competitive sports in the real world. Is any one of these players from the top 100?"
The Indian team - Prajnesh Gunneswara (103), Ramkumar Ramanathan (133) and Saketh Myneni (260) - of course had no player ranked in the top 100.
In the days leading up to the tie against Italy, Bhupathi had insisted his team were in with a chance. While Italy were the overwhelming favourites on paper, with three of their players ranked in the top 60, the fact that India were playing on grass - a surface the Italians were unfamiliar with - and in a shorter three-set format appeared to level the playing field.
The results proved otherwise.
On day one, India lost both their singles rubbers in straight sets. While the doubles pair of Divij Sharan and Rohan Bopanna pulled one match back on Saturday morning, there would be no coming back for India.
As Andreas Seppi fired an ace past Prajnesh Gunneswaran to secure a 6-1 6-4 win, the status quo seemed to have been maintained emphatically. The result meant that India had advanced to the World Group final playoffs six times in the last 10 years (since beating Brazil in 2011), losing on each occasion.
Of the 14 singles matches played in these ties, India won just four - two through Somdev Devvarman, and one each by Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan. In that time, only two players - Devvarman and Bhambri - have featured inside the top 100 of the world rankings. While Devvarman has retired, Bhambri, currently ranked 151, is nursing an injury.
Bhupathi had held on to some hope after the opening day of the tie. "Stranger things have happened in the Davis Cup," he had said. He admitted following the loss just how much those early defeats had hurt them. "To have a chance we needed a point yesterday. Once we went down 2-0 it was going to be a monumental task to come back."
After the doubles team got a win, India were hoping Gunneswaran would be able to pull off an upset against Seppi. They were hoping the pressure of closing out the tie might get to the Italian. Against a lesser player, it might well have. Not someone with 17 years of experience in the international circuit and ranked 35th in the world.
"I was telling Prajnesh to stay focused in the match and that when he (Seppi) was serving at 4-3, he might get a bit tight. But that never happened. He served three aces to win that service game. That's the kind of players you deal with at this stage."
Bhupathi however said he was hopeful for the future.
"The story (of India being let down by their singles performances) is changing. We have three boys who can compete at this level. Once we have a fully fit team we can do better."
Does better involve beating the best teams in the world?
"Rome wasn't built in a day. You can't always get miracles in sport."