India’s Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi was peeved when questioned if his team’s choice of a grass court had been vindicated at the end of day one. “Are you trying to be funny?”, the non-playing captain snapped at a reporter.

Considering that the All India Tennis Association had requested for a special exemption from the International Tennis Federation to host the tie on Kolkata’s grass, the choice was unquestionable, given the Italian team’s fondness for clay.

At the end of day one, however, India were down 0-2. Although it’s quite possible another choice would have proved just as disastrous, grass is also unforgiving: an error or a mis-step would push India’s chances to the brink, as both singles players and the captain admitted after a trying Friday.

India had clinched their only Davis Cup win against Italy on the grass of the Calcutta South Club in 1985, but this was a daunting proposition. Their number one singles player, Prajnesh Gunneswaran is ranked 102nd in the world, but Italy had three in the top 60, including Andreas Seppi, the most experienced of them all. Irrespective of their preference for non-grass surfaces, they were always going to be too strong for the Indians.

Ramkumar Ramanathan was first up on court. The Indian world number 131 was up against Andreas Seppi, 37th in the world and a 15-year-veteran of the Davis Cup. The Tamil Nadu lad clocked some big serves, which Seppi would acknowledge later, but would fail to capitalise on the pivotal moments, including a break point at 4-3 up in the first set. Ramkumar would lose the first set 4-6 after being broken immediately after Seppi’s hold, and the second set, which finished 6-2, was a mere procession.

“The first shot and first serve in grass is very important. Clay you can get away with it if you play a semi-decent shot and he [Seppi] started returning well. I didn’t have a look on his serve in the second set and I didn’t hold mine either after I went for extra, feeling the pressure of his returns,” admitted Ramanathan.

Seppi, to his credit, had upped his game in the second set, playing some delightful passing shots and constantly put Ramanathan’s volleys under pressure. “With slices, the bounce was low. It also made it difficult to him [Ramanathan] to volley. He was under pressure a little more as a result, on his first serve, so I played from the baseline,” said Seppi after the match.

Both players felt that Ramkumar’s inability to convert his solitary break point was pivotal in the larger context of the match. “I made the return but I hesitated to go to the net. I was feeling the nerves and tension at that moment,” Ramkumar said. Two double faults in the next game would give Seppi a break which he would use to win the set. Small margins, but then the Indians learnt it the hard way.

Next, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, a player who’s had to overcome a number of injuries in his rise to India’s top-ranked singles player. The one quality that stood out in his game on Friday, and what puts him a notch above the rest on the Indian circuit is his willingness to fight. He went down 4-6, 3-6 to Matteo Berrettini, but the Italian had a monster first serve and the best players in the world would have a tough time contending with it.

“He had a good first serve, but I lost the first service game in both sets. Once that happened, I fell behind and I didn’t take my chances. The momentum swung decisively in his favour,” Prajnesh reflected on his match.

Berrettini cranked up the pressure on his serve, hitting top speeds of 210, 215 and at one point, 224 km per hour. The Italian had five inches and 10 kilos on his opponent, and once he got that serve going, it was always going to be difficult.

Bhupathi echoed the sentiments of his players. “We’ve done it against China [come back from 0-2 down]. Stranger things have happened. Hopefully, we win the doubles and Prajnesh has some momentum to work with. The format is fast and you can get behind the eight-ball pretty fast,” he said.

Italian non-playing captain Corrado Barazzutti was giving no hints away. “We have the entire night to think about it. We might still change our doubles combination. Let’s see,” he suggested.

Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan are scheduled to play the doubles against Simone Bolelli and Marco Cecchinato. Barazzutti, a 1976 Davis Cup champion, may have other tricks up his sleeve, to put India out of the tie before the reverse singles.

For now, India are, perhaps, left wondering what if.