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Osaka endures surprise Fed Cup loss as Spain lead Japan

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Paris (AFP)

A tearful Naomi Osaka followed up her Australian Open disappointment with another surprise defeat on Friday when she was beaten 6-0, 6-3 by world number 78 Sara Sorribes Tormo in the Fed Cup.

Spain took an unexpected lead over Japan in the tie in Cartagena after Sorribes Tormo capitalised on a careless performance from Osaka, who made an astonishing 50 unforced errors in the 15 games.

Carla Suarez Navarro then made it 2-0 to the hosts after she eased past Misaki Doi 6-3, 6-4.

Sorribes Tormo enjoyed the backing of a sizeable home crowd at La Manga Club and her consistency proved too much for Osaka, who has never played her best on clay.

"We knew that Sara had the game to make it very uncomfortable for Naomi," Spain captain Anabel Medina Garrigues said. "She stuck to the game plan perfectly."

The winners of the eight qualifying ties will join four automatic entries, holders France, Australia, Czech Republic and hosts Hungary, in the inaugural Fed Cup Finals in Budapest in April.

Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has endured a shaky start to the year after being knocked out by 15-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff last month in Melbourne, where she had lifted the trophy in 2019.

Since claiming her second consecutive major triumph, Osaka has dipped, failing to go past the fourth round in any of the four Grand Slams since.

The 22-year-old, who has dropped to number 10 in the world, surrendered the first set to Sorribes Tormo in a swift 27 minutes before putting up more of a fight in the second.

But after Osaka led 2-0, Sorribes Tormo came back and a break midway through proved decisive, with a clearly disappointed Osaka struggling to contain her emotions at the finish.

Sorribes Tormo's second career singles win in Fed Cup gave Spain the perfect start, which was extended by Suarez Navarro's comfortable victory over Doi.

Osaka will now have to beat Suarez Navarro in the reverse singles on Saturday to prevent Spain booking their place in the finals in Budapest in April.

Elsewhere, world number five Belinda Bencic thrashed Gabriela Dabrowski 6-1, 6-2 to give Switzerland a commanding 2-0 advantage over Canada, while Britain slipped 2-0 behind against Slovakia in Bratislava.

The ties between Belgium and Kazakhstan, Romania and Russia, and the Netherlands and Belarus, were all level at 1-1 after the opening day.

Later on Friday, Serena Williams will play in the tournament for a fourth decade as the United States host Latvia in Everett, Washington.

It will be the 23-time Grand Slam champion's first appearance in the event since 2018.

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