In 1974, the Indian Davis Cup team was on the cusp of history. It had made its first ever final, and had a chance to become the first team outside the "big four" — USA, Great Britain, France and Australia — to be crowned world champion.
However, that dream went up in black smoke. South Africa qualified as their opponents, with the tie set to be played in Johannesburg. The Indian government, admirably but heartbreakingly, decided to boycott the tie to protest the apartheid regime in whose throes South Africa still lay. And just like that, India's hopes vanished, and South Africa lifted an empty cup.
The current backdrop is hardly as dramatic, but India's hopes of winning their upcoming World Group play-offs sublimated just as quickly when they drew Spain as their opponents. And any leftover crystals of hope were also promptly charred when the visitors fielded a full strength team. India, on the other hand, are without the services of Somdev Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri, and most recently, doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna, all out due to injury.
Here's a look at the individual match-ups:
Ramanathan vs Nadal: Thursday's draw ceremony has pitted India's most recent Davis Cupper Ramkumar Ramanathan against 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal, who will spearhead the Spanish challenge.
"I hope I don't get nervous," Ramanathan said of the prospect of playing Nadal. Rarely in his career is Ramanathan likely to be as nervous and nerve-free at the same time. While playing a 14-time Grand Slam champion can put butterflies in most stomachs, the difference in ranking (Ramanathan's rank is 203, Nadal is ranked fifth) means that the pressure will be off the 21-year-old.
The youngster was the first to hit the practice courts under lights, and has a chance to express himself without reservation. Nadal, meanwhile, was put through his paces by non-playing captain Conchita Martinez. It is Nadal's famed whipping forehand that Ramanathan will need to target on Friday though. "We are here to get back into World Group," said Nadal at the draw. "For a country like Spain, with so many players in the top 100 (11), we should be winning the Davis Cup."
Myneni vs Ferrer: With India's best (although discordant) doubles pairing of Paes-Bopanna unavailable, Saketh Myneni represents India's best (although way outside) chance of notching up a point. The six-foot-four Myneni, ranked 119, has had a good couple of months. After helping India beat South Korea in July, he reached the main draw of the US Open for the first time, and was on the verge of a victory over world number 51 Jiri Vesely. Hampered by a late injury, though, he lost that match. He is likely to be outclassed by world number 15 David Ferrer, who has been a part of three out of five Spanish Davis Cup wins. Although, in the words of Nadal himself, "In Davis Cup, special things can happen."
Myneni-Paes vs Lopez-Lopez: Marc and Feliciano Lopez are the reigning French Open Champions, claiming their first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros this year. The pair (who are not related) have beaten the Bryan brothers Bob and Mike (the most successful doubles pair at Grand Slams) twice this season already. This means it is an uphill task for India's stop-gap combination of Paes and Myneni. The doubles nomination for Saturday's game can be changed up to 10 minutes before the tie though, and the Indian team will take a call depending on how Myneni feels after his singles match on Friday. If need be, teenager Sumit Nagal could make his Davis Cup debut alongside Paes, who is more than twice his age.
Conditions: Despite the evening timings, the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium was warm and exceedingly balmy during the practice session on Thursday. While the worst of the heat may be dodged, staying hydrated will be a priority for both teams, especially the visitors.
Martinez played the conditions down though, focussing instead on the fact that her team was not short on either experience or motivation. "You can see by the names on this team how high it (this tie) is on the priority list. We want to go into the World Group and win another title," she said.
India, making its third consecutive appearance at World Group play-offs, will probably have to wait a while longer for a shot at glory.