Berliner Tageblatt - Osaka, Swiatek shine at BJK Cup as Raducanu survives 'muppet' moment

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Osaka, Swiatek shine at BJK Cup as Raducanu survives 'muppet' moment
Osaka, Swiatek shine at BJK Cup as Raducanu survives 'muppet' moment / Photo: © AFP

Osaka, Swiatek shine at BJK Cup as Raducanu survives 'muppet' moment

Naomi Osaka and Iga Swiatek enjoyed winning returns to the Billie Jean King Cup on Friday to move Japan and Poland closer to the finals as former US Open champion Emma Raducanu survived a "muppet" moment.

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Four-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Osaka last played for Japan in the competition in 2020, since when she has become a mother.

In Tokyo, the 26-year-old defeated Yulia Putintseva 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) to give Japan a commanding lead after team-mate Nao Hibino had beaten Anna Danilina 6-1, 6-0 earlier in their qualifying clash.

Osaka said she was "super-nervous" about playing in Japan for the first time since appearing at the Pan Pacific Open in September 2022.

She soon found her rhythm in the match, hitting 15 aces and no double faults.

"I'm the kind of person that I don't like to disappoint people," said Osaka.

"It would probably devastate me a lot more to lose here than it would to lose in a regular tournament, just because I want to support everyone as much as they support me."

Osaka, whose world ranking has risen from 831 to 193 since she began her comeback this year, has not given up hope of making the Paris Olympics later this year.

However, she may need to go through an appeals process to secure a spot after failing to make a mandatory two appearances in the BJK Cup during the current Olympic cycle.

World number one Swiatek, back on national duty for the first time since 2022, eased past 158th-ranked Simona Waltert 6-3, 6-1 to give Poland the lead over Switzerland in Biel.

Magdalena Frech made it 2-0 with a come-from-behind 6-7 (8/10), 7-5, 6-3 victory over 18-year-old Celine Naef.

"At the beginning I made a couple of mistakes that changed the momentum a little bit but the key is not to overthink it and not make the same mistakes so I'm glad that I did that at the end," said four-time major winner Swiatek.

Switzerland were 2022 champions when they defeated Australia in the final inspired by Belinda Bencic.

However, Olympic champion Bencic is currently off tour after announcing in November last year that she was pregnant.

- Australia on top -

Seven-time champions Australia seized control of their qualifier against Mexico in Brisbane despite losing Storm Hunter on the eve of the tie to a serious Achilles injury.

Samantha Stosur, in her first match as captain, picked Hunter as her number two singles player, but she suffered a ruptured tendon during a practice session.

Daria Saville stepped in and blew Marcela Zacarias off court 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour to put Australia within reach of the finals.

In the first singles rubber against an understrength Mexico, Arina Rodionova opened her first BJK Cup tie in eight years with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over Giuliana Olmos.

France, the three-time champions, are level 1-1 with Great Britain in Le Portel.

World number 49 Diane Parry gave France the lead with a surprisingly easy 6-2, 6-0 win over 28th-ranked Katie Boulter.

Raducanu, back in the side after an injury-plagued season, pulled Britain level with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over French number one Caroline Garcia.

Raducanu admitted to a moment of embarrassment at 5-1 in the decider when she mistakenly thought she had won the match.

"I think sometimes I'm just super locked in that I don't get the score," she explained.

"I'm not sure what happened, but it was quite embarrassing. All I was thinking was, 'if I lose this right now I'm going to look like a right muppet'. So I'm very happy that I managed to pull it through in the next game."

Eighteen-time champions United States host Belgium in Orlando with their challenge spearheaded by world number five Jessica Pegula.

Ukraine are playing their home tie against Romania in Florida as they attempt to reach the finals for the first time.

Slovakia lead Slovenia 2-0 in Bratislava while Brazil host Germany in Sao Paulo.

The ties are completed on Saturday with two reverse singles and a doubles rubber.

The eight winners this weekend advance to November's 12-team finals in Seville where they join hosts Spain, defending champions Canada, 2023 runners-up Italy and wild-card Czech Republic.