Lisa Raymond Replaces Serena In Singles For Fed Cup
Updated: 02:48 PM EDT
Venus Williams leads U.S. team in Slovenia
By NESHA STARCEVIC, AP SPORTS
PORTOROZ, Slovenia (AP) - The United States begins its bid to regain the Fed Cup with a match against Slovenia and one prominent absentee.
Serena Williams is out with a knee injury, leaving sister Venus to lead the squad Saturday in the first round of World Group play.
Lisa Raymond, who played in last year's final, is back along with 47-year-old Martina Navratilova and Laura Granville.
"It's unfortunate Serena stepped down," Raymond said. "But for me, it's cool. I get a chance here."
Last the year, the Americans lost the final 4-1 to France, playing without the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati.
The United States has won the Fed Cup 17 times, more than any other nation in the tournament's 40-year history.
Navratilova also played doubles last year, winning the only point with Raymond in the title match against France.
Slovenia's team features Tina Pisnik, Katarina Srebotnik, Maja Matevzic and Tina Krizman. Pisnik, at No. 32, is the team's highest-ranked player.
The matches will be played on an outdoor red-clay court at a recreational center next to a marina in this resort on the northern Adriatic coast. The Americans have been practicing for two days at the arena that can accommodate 2,200 spectators.
"I am glad right now that the players made it here safely," said Zina Garrison, who is making her debut as team captain.
Raymond was on the last U.S. team that won the Fed Cup, the 2000 squad that defeated Spain in the final in Las Vegas. She will open against Pisnik in the opening singles Saturday. Williams plays Srebotnik in the second singles. Reverse singles and doubles are Sunday.
"I love Fed Cup week, I relish it," Raymond said. "It was a tough trip getting here, but once you get here, you don't even think about it."
The slow clay is the Americans' least favorite surface.
"It's not going to be easy," Raymond said. "From the first point we have to be ready to play because they have nothing to lose and it's an awesome feeling to be playing for the crowds."
In other first-round matches, it's Russia vs. Australia, Austria vs. Slovakia, Argentina vs. Japan, Italy vs. the Czech Republic, France vs. Germany, Spain vs. Switzerland and Belgium vs. Croatia.
The Belgians are without top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, although second-ranked Kim Clijsters has said her wrist has healed enough to allow her to play.
France will be led by Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce, the players who carried their team past the Americans in last year's final.
After this year, the Fed Cup will abandon its format in which the semifinals and finals are played at one venue in a single week. The International Tennis Federation is switching to a Davis Cup format in which the semifinals and finals are held separately.
At stake this weekend is more than a place in the 2004 quarterfinals since there will be an eight-team World Group I and eight-team World Group II in 2005.
The eight first-round winners will contest the World Group I in 2005. The eight first-round losers will take part in the World Group playoffs against eight qualifiers from the Zonal Group matches. The eight winners of the playoffs will contest World Group II next year.
04/23/04 14:47 EDT
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. The