New Delhi: Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi says the Canada team, which has 'future star' Denis Shapovalov in the line-up, is stronger than the Czech Republic side to which India had lost in the play-offs stage in 2015.
The Indian team, which had a week-long training camp in New York before reaching Edmonton, is set to make a fourth consecutive attempt to qualify for the elite World Group.
After dominating the Asia/Oceania zone, India lost to tennis power-houses Serbia (2014), Czech Republic (2015) and Rafael Nadal-led Spain (2016) at the World Group Play-off stage in recent years.
Canada have named world number 51 Shapovalov, who reached the US Open fourth round, Vasek Pospisil (82) along with seasoned Daniel Nestor (43 in doubles) and Brayden Schnur (202) for the play-off tie, starting Friday.
"Canada is a quality team but of course we are here because we earned the chance to play them. I personally think they are a stronger team than the Czechs when they came to India," Bhupathi told PTI from Edmonton.
Shapovalov has made quite a splash with his performance in the last few weeks. Before making the US Open fourth round as a qualifier, the 18-year-old had shocked Nadal en route the semifinals of the Montreal Masters.
The Czechs had travelled to India with Jiri Vesely (then world number 40 and now 59) and Lukas Rosol (then world number 85) as the main singles players. Radek Stepanek, winner of two Grand Slam titles with Leander Paes, had played only doubles with Adam Pavlasek.
Bhupathi said going to the University of Columbia in New York for the camp has helped the team prepare better for the indoor tie. "The week of practice indoors has helped the team. The boys have hit a lot of balls and are feeling good, so we are looking forward to the weekend," he said.
Bhupathi, who replaced Anand Amritraj in the captain's chair early this year, said the recent success of both Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanthan against high-quality rivals is a tremendous confidence booster.
While Yuki had scalped world number 22 Gael Monfils at the Citi Open, Ramkumar had an upset win over top-10 player Domnic Thiem at the Antalya Open. "Wins give you confidence and big wins give you lots of confidence.
I am sure it's a stepping stone in their process to make the top 100," Bhupathi said. "Both Yuki and Ram have had very good summers so they have a lot of matches under their belt. Rohan, of course, made the final in Montreal and is a leader in this team.
Saketh is getting better every week, it's always hard to come back from a long injury layoff but he is committed," Bhupathi said, giving his assessment of the team.
Yuki had to endure tough times after breaking the top-100 barrier late in 2015 due to injuries but has done well this season. Ramkumar was also struggling initially this year but has shaken off the rust to come out stronger.
Bhupathi said the players are working very hard and will enjoy more success.
"(I am) sure they do (work very hard). It's heading in the right direction," the 43-year-old Bhupathi, India's first ever Grand Slam winner, said.
Bhupathi also felt that India can produce top-10 players like other Asian nations.
"If Japan, Thailand can produce top 10 players, I believe India can too," he said without elaborating.