Naomi Osaka set for BJK Cup return but Elena Rybakina's absence spoils party

Osaka confirmed for next month's Japan and Kazakhstan BJK Cup qualifiers tie.

by Dzevad Mesic
Naomi Osaka set for BJK Cup return but Elena Rybakina's absence spoils party
© Getty Images Sport - Kiyoshi Ota

Naomi Osaka, 26, will be returning to the Japanese Billie Jean King Cup team next month for the first time since 2020, the team announced. 

Between April 12-13, Japan will travel to Kazakhstan for the BJK Cup qualifiers tie. When the Japanese team was announced, Osaka's name instantly stuck out as the four-time champion is set to lead the team that also includes Noa Hibino, Mai Hontama, Ena Shibahara and Shuko Aoyama. 

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Kiyoshi Ota

After seeing Osaka confirming her BJK Cup participation, some were left disappointed after seeing that Elena Rybakina did not make herself available for the Kazakhstan and Japan tie. Had 2022 Wimbledon champion Rybakina opted to play for Kazakhstan next month, her and Osaka's match would have highlighted BJK Cup qualifiers action. 

Instead, Kazakhstan will be represented by just one top-100 player - Yulia Putintseva - while the rest of the team features Zarina Diyas, Anna Dalinina, Zhibek Kulumbayeva and Aruzhan Sagandikova.

Osaka hasn't played in the BJK Cup since 2020

The last time Osaka played in the Billie Jean King Cup came in 2020 February when Japan was taking on Spain. Back then, Osaka appeared in just one match and suffered a surprise loss after Sara Sorribes Tormo upset her 6-0 6-3. 

Since debuting in the competition in 2017, Osaka has posted a 5-2 record in the BJK Cup. 

"She said that she wants to play, so I'm really happy," Japanese Billie Jean King Cup team captain Ai Sugiyama said in a statement, as reported by Japanese media.

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Osaka accepting to play for Japan again in the Billie Jean King Cup should not be particularly surprising considering that the Japanese tennis star has already made it clear that competing and doing well at this year's Paris Olympics is a big goal of hers as she wants to win a gold medal before retiring. 

When Japan takes on Kazakhstan next month, Osaka will by far be the biggest name competing and definitely makes Japan the favorites going into the tie. 

Naomi Osaka Elena Rybakina