Tokyo: India faced relegation to the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone after Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Bopanna lost their singles rubbers, handing Japan a 2-0 lead on the opening day of the World Group play-off tie here on Friday.
Somdev, ranked 65th, suffered an unexpected 3-6, 4-6, 5-7 defeat against Yuichi Sugita, who is placed 110 rungs below the Indian.
The visitors never recovered from the shock of the opening singles rubber, which lasted two hours and 32 minutes.
India needed an exceptional performance from Bopanna to come back in the tie but the Indian was no match to the supremely talented Kei Nishikori.
World number 55 Nishikori showed his superiority by disbanding Bopanna's challenge 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the second singles, which was over in just one hour and 37 minutes.
India now face the daunting task of winning all the remaining rubbers over the next two days if they have to stay in the elite 16-nation World Group.
Japan, on the other hand, have very strong chance to advance to World Group after a long gap of 26 years.
After the first day debacle, it will be interesting to see which pair Indian captain S P Misra chooses to play in the do-or-die doubles rubber tomorrow as a defeat would end India's chances.
Somdev, who has been India's hero in the Davis Cup for quite some time now, fell to a charged up Sugita, egged on by the home crowd.
There was no margin of error in the first rubber of the tie and whoever blinked had to pay the price. All the three sets were fought closely and it was Somdev who dropped serve early in the first two sets to hand advantage to Sugita.
Down 0-2, Somdev did raise the level and played cautiously in the third set, which was 5-5 at one stage, heading for a tie-breaker.
However, Sugita got that crucial break in the 11th game and served out the rubber in the next game.
The body language did not suggest that Bopanna was ready for a fight and intermittent close and doubtful line calls just added to the frustration of the Indian camp.
Bopanna relies heavily on his booming serve but he struggled to hold today, thanks to the superior all round game of Nishikori and the Indian's own unforced errors.
An easy overhead volley, which should have been put away, was hit onto the net by Bopanna and it handed the first break of the match to Nishikori, who opened a 3-1 lead.
The Japanese consolidated the lead by holding his serve in the next game. The sixth game was an interesting duel as Bopanna fought hard and saved a breakpoint en route to hold.
Bopanna started to attacking Nishikori's serve and earned two breakpoints in the seventh game but Nishikori served extremely well to deny the Indian any chance of a comeback.
As the next two games went with serve, Nishikori nosed ahead 1-0 in the rubber.
Another drop volley fault and a backhand error cost Bopanna dear as it gave a 2-1 lead to the host player in the second set. Soon Bopanna was down 104 as he dropped serve in the fifth game as well.
Nishikori had no problem in sealing the set when he came to serve in the eighth game.
The story did not change in the third set as Nishikori broke Bopanna twice to hand his side a 2-0 cushion in the five-rubber tie.