Net gains for U.S. women at Fed Cup
7/22/02 7:20 AM
AP Photo KCAR104
By DOUG TUCKER<
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ The U.S. women are right back where they feel they should be on tennis' world stage.
``It's total relief,'' captain Billie Jean King said.
After an embarrassing loss to Austria, the United States overwhelmed Israel 5-0 in sweltering heat in the Fed Cup.
Playing with power and savvy, the Americans won their first three matches in straight sets and regained their place in the 16-nation World Group when Monica Seles defeated Anna Smashnova 6-4, 6-0 in the first match Sunday.
``This is the second time in the history of Fed Cup that we were in jeopardy of falling out of the World Group,'' King said. ``We did not want that to happen.''
In the second singles Sunday, Lindsay Davenport defeated Tzipi Obziler 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), the only singles match the Americans did not win in straight sets.
In the weekend finale, Meghann Shaughnessy and Lisa Raymond, the world's No. 1-ranked doubles player, beat Obziler and Hila Rosen 6-3, 6-0.
The Americans' next match is nine months away in the 2003 Fed Cup.
``The United States is probably the strongest country in terms of women's tennis right now,'' Davenport said. ``We felt like we deserved to be up there in that top group.''
Davenport returned to serious competition for the first time since knee surgery in January.
``I didn't feel it at all and it's not sore,'' she said. ``So that's really great news.''
The Americans, who have won a record 17 Fed Cup championships, lost to Austria after King dismissed Jennifer Capriati in a dispute over practice rules. This time there was no controversy, and no challenge.
``We just wanted to win it,'' Seles said. ``We had a lot of pressure coming in. After losing to Austria, that was really hard on all of us. It's been such a good week for us, on and off the court.''
After Seles won a close first set, Smashnova seemed to wilt in the 90-degree heat and under pressure from her opponent's unrelenting ground strokes.
``I think I did get a little bit tired,'' said Smashnova, Israel's No. 1 player. ``But Monica also got tired.''
The U.S. team took a 2-0 lead Saturday when Seles beat Obziler 6-4, 6-2, and Davenport defeated Smashnova 6-3, 6-3.
Seles made seven unforced errors in the first set on Sunday and was having difficulty with her forehand. But Smashnova double-faulted twice on deuce.
``I thought Monica played better today,'' King said. ``She was much more aggressive off the ground particularly, and also a little bit on her serve. I think that made a big difference.''
The Americans will attempt to win their 18th Fed Cup without Capriati and without Venus and Serena Williams, the top-two players in the world.
``You'd obviously love to have the strongest team possible and that definitely includes the Williamses,'' Davenport said. ``But I think this team could win it.''
Also winning playoffs to get into the World Group next year were Australia, China, Argentina, Czech Republic, Sweden and Slovenia.
In the Fed Cup quarterfinals, defending champion Belgium played without Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin and was eliminated by Italy.
The countries entered Sunday tied 1-1, but Silvia Farina Elia beat Els Callens 6-2, 7-6 (4), and Rita Grande defeated Carolina Maes 6-4, 7-6 (5) to put Italy in the semifinals.
Clijsters and Henin, both Grand Slam tournament finalists in 2001 and ranked in the top seven, skipped the matches on clay in Bologna to concentrate on the hard-court season and the U.S. Open.
Also reaching the final four were Austria, Spain and Slovakia. Austria beat Croatia, Spain topped Germany and Slovakia surprised France.