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TOKYO: Naomi Osaka was not required to play after team-mate Nao Hibino sent Japan to their first Billie Jean King Cup finals Saturday with an unassailable 3-0 qualifying lead over Kazakhstan.

Former world number one and four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka was appearing at the competition for the first time since 2020 and won her opening singles game on Friday.

But she did not need to play a second time after Hibino clinched Japan’s spot in November’s finals with a hard-fought 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9/7) win over world number 50 Yulia Putintseva.

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“I started wondering if it was OK for me to win my match – there were a lot of fans looking forward to watching Osaka,” laughed world number 79 Hibino.

“It was mixed emotions but I really wanted to clinch the win.”

Osaka was appearing in Japan for the first time since playing at the Pan Pacific Open in September 2022.

She beat Putintseva 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) on Friday, hitting 15 aces and no double faults to stake Japan to a 2-0 lead.

Hibino said Osaka had brought presents for her Japan teammates and had been an important presence in the dressing room.

But it was Hibino who took centre stage on the second day, fending off four straight match points for Putintseva before coming back to win the third-set tiebreaker.

“I was playing against someone who I have struggled against so I wasn’t sure if I could win,” said Hibino.

“But the crowd really raised the voltage towards the end of the final set and I wanted to experience what it would be like to win in that atmosphere.”

It was Hibino’s second singles victory of the tie after dispatching Anna Danilina 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour on the opening day.

Kazakhstan were without world number four Elena Rybakina, who lost in the final of the Miami Open last month.

The BJK Cup finals will be held in Seville.

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