Japan look to world no. 10 Naomi Osaka to spearhead their challenge against a Spanish side which lack that kind of star power but have ample strength in depth as Fed Cup qualifying begins.
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Spain vs Japan is live from Cartagena on Friday 7 February from 12pm local/11am GMT
Location: Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
Venue: Centro de Tenis La Manga Club
Surface: Clay (outdoors)
Spain: Carla Suarez Navarro, Sara Sorribes Tormo, Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, Lara Arruabarrena, Georgina Garcia-Perez, Anabel Medina Garrigues (captain)
Japan: Naomi Osaka, Misaki Doi, Kurumi Nara, Ena Shibahara, Shuko Aoyama, Toshihisa Tsuchihashi (captain)
Spain vs Japan: The draw
Friday 7 February:
Rubber 1: Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) vs Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Rubber 2: Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs Misaki Doi (JPN)
Saturday 8 February:
Rubber 3: Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Rubber 4: Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) vs Misaki Doi (JPN)
Rubber 5: Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov/Georgina Garcia-Perez (ESP) vs Shuko Aoyama/Ena Shibahara (JPN)
NB: Player nominations can change until an hour before the start of play
Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) vs Naomi Osaka (JPN), 12pm local/11am GMT
World no. 10 Naomi Osaka, the highest-ranked player in the draw, will aim to get visitors Japan off to a winning start in Cartagena as she takes on Sara Sorribes Tormo, the Spanish no. 2 singles player in the absence of Garbine Muguruza.
Osaka has a 5-1 record in Fed Cup singles and is hoping to play a role in putting Japan into April’s Fed Cup Finals in Budapest. The former world no. 1 will also be wanting to bounce back from her failure to defend her Australian Open title, having turned in a rather underwhelming performance to say the least in her third-round defeat to Cori Gauff in Melbourne.
Osaka is still 5-2 to start 2020 after a semifinal run in Brisbane, where she beat three top-25 players before narrowly falling to Karolina Pliskova, so it’s not entirely dire for the Japanese-Haitian player and her new coach Wim Fissette. But the surface is a concern. Spain have, not surprisingly, selected outdoor clay (despite it being February), and it’s safe to say clay is not Osaka’s favourite. Her career clay record is 31-23, and her most successful season on it so far by far was 2019 when she went 9-2, reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart (indoor clay), the quarterfinals of Madrid and Rome and the third round of the French Open. She has never played a Fed Cup rubber on clay.
Things are, as you would expect, otherwise for Sara Sorribes Tormo, the world no. 78, who has a 158-87 record on clay (contrast her 78-78 record on hard courts). The 23-year-old has never won a WTA Tour title or reached a final, although she finished runner-up at two WTA 125k events in 2019. Sorribes Tormo has a 1-3 record in Fed Cup singles, including a defeat to Nao Hibino during last year’s Spain-Japan clash.
Osaka is 2-0 vs Sorribes Tormo, but the Spaniard did take a set from her in their only previous clash on clay courts, which came in Madrid last spring. Still, Osaka was able to bagel Sorribes Tormo in the third set and the world no. 10 should be able to impose her authority on this one to get Japan off to a winning start in this tie.
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) vs Misaki Doi (JPN), to follow
With a 15-8 record in Fed Cup singles, but a 7-2 record in singles rubbers on clay, Carla Suarez Navarro is being relied upon to get Spain on the board on day one in Murcia.
Ranked as high as world no. 6 in 2016, the diminutive Spaniard with the one-handed backhand has always been noticeable for her work ethic and superb movement around the court. Now 31, however, Suarez Navarro has announced her intention to retire at the end of 2020, and her ranking has slipped outside of the top 50 after she failed to defend her US Open quarterfinal points last year. Suarez Navarro is only 1-3 in 2020 so far, although that one win was an impressive one: Over 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in two tie-break sets in the first round of the Australian Open before going down to Iga Swiatek.
Misaki Doi has been playing for Japan since 2011 and has amassed a 10-8 singles record – although, damningly, she is 0-4 in ties played on clay. The left-hander has always struck me as one of those players who is better than her ranking, which peaked at world no. 30 in 2016 and currently sits at world no. 86, but she is on a four-match losing streak after ending 2019 with two defeats and losing her first two matches of 2020.
Doi did beat Suarez Navarro in their only previous clash, but that was on grass, and it will be a whole different ball game on clay.