London | Swiatek and Osaka lead the charge in Day 1 of BJK Cup Qualifiers

Action in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers got under way on Friday, with Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka leading the charge with wins to put Poland and Japan ahead against Switzerland and Kazakhstan in different parts of the world on their quest to secure their nations places in the November Finals in Seville.

We had many games that were, kind of, even, with many deuces and break points. For sure it wasn't easy. I felt, like, she can play like an underdog more with no pressure, and with the Swiss crowd support. I knew what I can show, and I wanted to just stay solid. Because, 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. Iga Świątek

Australia and the USA were also among the teams to score wins by the end of Day 1, with leads over Mexico and Belgium, going up 2-0.

Osaka said she was driven by the fear of letting her team-mates down after helping Japan take control of their BJK Cup Qualifier at Tokyo’s Ariake Coliseum, when the former World No 1 and 4-time Grand Slam champion beat Yulia Putintseva, 6-2 7-6(5) to give Japan a commanding lead after her team-mate Nao Hibino had dispatched Anna Danilina, 6-1 6-0, earlier in the day.

Osaka, who returned to the tour late last year after giving birth to a daughter, admitted she was ‘super-nervous’ about playing in Japan for the first time since appearing at the Pan Pacific Open in September 2022, but she soon found her groove, firing 15 aces with zero double-faults.

“I’m the kind of person that I don’t like to disappoint people,” said Osaka, who is playing at the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time since 2020. “I feel, like, I came here to do a job and, obviously, I want to do well.

“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.”

The 26-year old entered the clash with 5 wins from 7 Billie Jean King Cup matches for Japan, but Putintseva is an opponent she has struggled with previously, having faced each other 4 times on the WTA Tour, with the Russian-born Kazakh winning on 3 occasions, but, this time around, Osaka rounded off an excellent day’s work for Japan.

Osaka will face World No 939 Danilina on Saturday unless Hibino has already wrapped up victory for Japan in her reverse singles match against Putintseva.

Hibino, ranked 79, needed just 57 minutes to see off Danilina earlier on Friday.

“I watched the first set of Nao’s match in the audience, and I just thought the atmosphere was really incredible,” said Osaka. “I didn’t want to be the one to let the energy go down so I probably did have a lot of extra motivation.”

Osaka, whose ranking has risen from 831 to 193 since she began her come-back this year, has not given up hope of making the Paris Olympics later this year, but she may need to go through an appeals process to secure a spot after failing to make a mandatory 2 appearances in the BJK Cup during the current Olympic cycle.

Iga Swiatek put Poland 2-0 up against hosts Switzerland after beating Simona Waltert at Jan Group Arena in Biel on Friday

© Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images for ITF

Meanwhile, in Biel, Switzerland, World No 1 Swiatek enjoyed her winning return to BJK Cup duty as she eased past 158th-ranked Simona Waltert, 6-3 6-1, to give Poland the lead over their Swiss hosts.

The 2022 champions may have the home-court advantage, but they are without Belinda Bencic, a lynchpin of the Swiss team over the years, who is currently on maternity leave, and the rankings heavily favour their guests.

Swiatek, who is back in the Polish team for the first time since 2022, had not faced Waltert since their junior days, having defeated her in the 2nd-round of Wimbledon juniors in 2018 en route to the title, and she got proceedings off to a flying start with her commanding win over the Swiss.

The 22-year old Pole, though, had to face 14 break points over the course of the rubber, but succeeded in fending off 13 of them.

Ranked 157 places below Swiatek, Waltert stepped up against the 4-time Grand Slam winner with exceptional court coverage and inspired play, seemingly enjoying her first singles appearance for her country, but, in the end, she was no match for the Pole’s experience and power.

Swiatek later admitted that the scoreline didn’t reflect the intensity of the match.

“We had many games that were, kind of, even, with many deuces and break points. For sure it wasn’t easy,” she said. “I felt, like, she can play like an underdog more with no pressure, and with the Swiss crowd support.

“I knew what I can show, and I wanted to just stay solid,” she added. “Because, 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.”

Poland’s Magdalena Frech made it 2-0 with a come-from-behind 6-7(8) 7-5 6-3 win over 18-year-old Celine Naef in a match of ever-changing momentum that lasted just under 3 hours.

The World No 52 withstood a concerted onslaught from Naef, who is ranked 148 and played with power and tenacity, going 3-0 up in the opening set.

Frech reeled her back in, but the big-serving teenager, who was playing on home soil in the competition for the first time, showed fearlessness and confidence to hold on through an intense tiebreak to pocket the set.

Further reversals of fortune ensued on both sides, with Naef breaking Frech to love at 4-4 in the second set, then the Pole, having lost 9 points in a row, taking the next 4 to get back on serve.

The more experienced Frech, who was called up after the late withdrawal of Magda Linette, then pounced on Naef’s failure to serve out the match, and switched up a gear in the third to get Poland over the line on the first day.

The result takes Poland into Day 2 of the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers with a commanding 2-0 lead.

New Australian Captain Sam Stosur (L) selected Daria Saville (R) after Storm Hunter sustained a serious Achilles injury, who dispatched Marcela Zacarias of Mexico with ease on Friday in Brisbane

© Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Down Under, in Brisbane, 7-time champions Australia seized control of their Qualifier against Mexico in Brisbane despite losing Storm Hunter on the eve of the tie due to a serious Achilles injury.

Samantha Stosur, in her first match as captain, picked Hunter as her No 2 singles player, but she suffered a ruptured tendon during a practice session, so Daria Saville stepped in and blew Marcela Zacarias off the court, 6-1 6-0, in under an hour.

In the first singles rubber against an understrength Mexico, Arina Rodionova opened her first BJK Cup tie in 8 years with a 3-6 6-3 6-1 win over Giuliana Olmos.

Meanwhile, Americans Jessica Pegula and Emma Navarro outlasted a young Belgian team in Orlando, Florida, but needed to summon all of their elite form in order to build USA’s 2-0 lead.

The two Top 25 players had to fight past two 19-year-olds, neither of whom had previously faced a Top 100 player in their careers.

Pegula, the World No 5, battled to a 4-6 6-2 6-3 win over big-hitting Sofia Costoulas, a recent Top 5 junior, while 21st-ranked Navarro kept the Americans in front with a 4-6 6-4 6-3 come-back over Hanne Vandewinkel, closing out a challenging day against two impressive youngsters.

Team Ukraine are hoping to make the Finals for the first time and are 2-0 up against Romania going in to Day 2 at Racquet Park Drive, Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach, Florida.

© James Gilbert/Getty Images for ITF

Also in Florida, playing on neutral ground, war-torn Ukraine are hosting Romania and are attempting to reach the finals for the first time by enjoyed a flying start.

Lesia Tsurenko fought back to beat Ana Bogdan 3-6 6-2 6-0 before Elina Svitolina saw off Jaqueline Cristian, 6-3 7-5.

“I was very nervous because I really wanted to get points for my team,” said Tsurenko after her match which saw 16 breaks of serve.

In Bratislava, hosts Slovakia also ended Day 1 with a 2-0 lead over Slovenia, after Anna Karolina Schmiedlova defeated 18-year-old Ela Milic, 6-4 6-3, before Viktoria Hruncakova came through, 6-1 5-7 6-3, over Veronika Erjavec.

Late in the day, Germany built a 2-0 lead over home team Brazil, with Laura Siegemund picking up the 19th Top 20 win of her career with a 6-4 6-2 win over Beatriz Haddad Maia, while Tatjana Maria added to the Germans’ advantage with a 2-6 6-4 6-4 victory over Laura Pigossi.

Emma Raducanu (L) pulled Team GB back from the brink to level with France 1-1 on Day 1, much to the delight of Captain Anne Keothavong (R)

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for ITF

As reported elsewhere, France and Great Britain are tied at 1-1 after an intriguing first day of their Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Qualifier in Le Portel, with Diane Parry trouncing Katie Boulter, 6-2 6-0, to put the hosts ahead, and Caroline Garcia leading Emma Raducanu by a set and a break, when it looked as if France would take a convincing lead into the second day, only for Raducanu to produce a stunning come-back to win 3-6 6-3 6-2 and level the contest.



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