Osaka returns to BJK Cup duty with hopeful eye on Olympics

Naomi Osaka returns to the BJK Cup for the first time in four years on Friday, optimistically hoping to force her way into the Olympic Games.

Published : Apr 11, 2024 09:45 IST , Paris - 2 MINS READ

Naomi Osaka in action.
Naomi Osaka in action. | Photo Credit: AP

Naomi Osaka in action. | Photo Credit: AP

Naomi Osaka returns to the BJK Cup for the first time in four years on Friday, optimistically hoping to force her way into the Olympic Games.

The former world number one and four-time major winner has been named in the Japan squad to face Kazakhstan in Tokyo.

It will be the 26-year-old’s first appearance in the team competition since February 2020 which means that she hasn’t fulfilled the obligation of making it to two ties in one Olympic cycle.

If she is to secure a spot in the Japan team for the Paris Olympics “she’ll need to go through the appeals process,” a spokesman for the International Tennis Federation (ITF) told AFP.

However, the ITF also reserves a place in each singles draw at the Games to a Grand Slam title winner.

READ | Nadal hopes to return from injury for Barcelona Open

Osaka was absent from the tour from September 2022 until January this year after giving birth to her first child.

At the Australian Open, she was ranked a lowly 831 but a quarter-final run in Qatar followed by back-to-back third round spots at Indian Wells and Miami have lifted her to just inside the top 200 and number four in Japan.

The singles event at the Olympics is limited to 64 players with a maximum of four from each nation.

Osaka has already experienced the Olympics, lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Covid-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021 where she went on to make the third round.

That appearance came just months after she withdrew from the French Open at Roland Garros -- the venue for this summer’s Olympics tennis event -- citing mental health issues.

Japan’s tie with Kazakhstan on Friday and Saturday will be staged at Tokyo’s Ariake Coliseum, the venue for the 2021 Olympic tournament.

“She said that she wants to play, so I’m really happy,” local media quoted Japan captain Ai Sugiyama as saying when the team for this weekend was announced.

Eight BJK Cup qualifying ties take place this week with the winners advancing to the 12-team finals in November where they will join hosts Spain, defending champions Canada, 2023 runners-up Italy and wild-card Czech Republic.

World number one Iga Swiatek leads Poland in their tie against Switzerland at Biel.

Swiatek returns to the squad for the first time since the 2022 qualifiers, when she led Poland to a 4-0 victory against Romania.

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.

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