American Anthem: King Selects Williams Sisters, Shaughnessy, Stevenson To U.S. Fed Cup Squad
By Richard Pagliaro
It was shortly before dawn when Billie Jean King finally got to sleep last night. Though she hardly had much time to rest before conducting a conference call with the media this morning, the U.S. Fed Cup captain awoke ready to rock.
The Grand Slam great announced today that she has selected Meghann Shaughnessy and Alexandra Stevenson to join top-ranked Serena Williams and second-ranked Venus Williams on the United States Fed Cup team that hosts the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup first-round tie set for April 26-27th, at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass. Czech Republic Captain Petra Langrova has until April 16th to name her team members.
The perpetually positive King was downright delighted in discussing the first-round clash that marks the first time Serena and Venus have represented the United States in an international team competition since Venus won the gold medal in singles and teamed with Serena to strike gold in doubles on the American team King captained at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games.
The tie may well be the first step in the United States' quest to recapture the Cup it last won in 2000. Regaining the Fed Cup is clearly the goal, but King believes the tie can transcend competition and significantly elevate the stature of Fed Cup in the United States. King's cause for excitement is completely understandable: when your team features the world's top two ranked players, your tennis dreams come to life while you're wide awake.
"It's very exciting because we are sold out and I think it's going to put Fed Cup on the map in this country and let people know who we are and what we're doing," King said. "I think this is going to be an unbelievable happening. It's going to be wild, it's going to be crazy and that's the way we want it. We're going to really rock."
The captain has selected players who can make the strings sing with the pure power emanating from their racquets.
The 22nd-ranked Shaughnessy, who upset Venus Williams, 7-6(2), 6-1 at the Nasdaq-100 Open last night in a match that kept King up until 3 a.m. watching on ESPN, will be making her third appearance on the team. The 27th-ranked Stevenson will make her Fed Cup debut.
"Meghann is carrying great momentum into this event with a terrific run at the Australian Open and we're excited about Alexandra's debut as a U.S. Fed Cup rookie," King said. "Meghann feels it's great to be around Fed Cup and that it helps her to be a better player. Alexandra Stevenson, for the last three years, has begged me to be on the team. I keep telling her 'It has everything to do with you' because I go right down the rankings list, usually. It's funny because Alexandra has been praying for this for so long, so she'll be hopping and ready to go."
The tie is a month away, but the presence of the Williams sisters has already generated a buzz rivaling a rock concert and turning the tie it into a record-setting event. It took less than a single working day for the U.S. squad to sell out as tickets went on sale to the general public on Friday, February 21st at 10 a.m. and all 5,741 tickets were sold out six hours later, by 4 p.m.
"I'm thrilled we have an unbelievable team," King said. "Because we announced the Williams sisters on the team weeks ago we sold out right away."
The drawing power ? and dominance ? of the Williams sisters is immense and King believes both Serena and Venus benefit from the week spent training with the team.
"Top players loved to be challenged and love to get better," King said. "I've got some ideas for sure. My assistant coach, Zina Garrison, and I and the whole support team spend a lot of time with all the players to try to make a difference in their game and in their lives. One thing I would like to do is help Venus with her serve. I did spend two days with Meghann Shaughnessy last December out in Phoenix and I'm available to any of the Fed Cup American players."
Throughout her career, King has been a proponent of promoting team play in tennis. She was a player on the first American Fed Cup team, she helped establish World TeamTennis and was the first woman to coach a pro tennis team that included men when she was player/coach of the WTT's Philadelphia Freedoms (immortalized in song by tennis fanatic and close friend to King, Elton John) in 1974.
King believes the team concept cultivates character strengths that aren't always evident in an individual sport.
"I'm a big proponent of it because most people relate to team sports: most people are into football, baseball, basketball and soccer in this country," King said. "Players' personalities do change when they're on a team; the dynamics of a player change a lot when they're on a team. They tend to think about giving more than they take. They're more into thinking of others. Sometimes they're in a supportive role and sometimes in a leadership role ? that's interchangeable. More importantly, they spend time with each other not having to compete against each other, but actually helping each other. It's very nice to see how friendships and mutual respect happens. When you're on a team together, you start to respect each other as human beings and that's a really important lesson in life."
It was a life lesson that became the central theme in the saga surrounding Austria's shocking 3-2 victory over the U.S. in the 2002 Fed Cup first-round tie held in Charlotte, North Carolina last April.
The devastating defeat was marked by a contentious clash between King and Jennifer Capriati, who was kicked off the American squad after reportedly unleashing a "profanity-laced tirade" at King after King informed Capriati she was violating a team rule prohibiting private practice by planning a practice session with her father, and coach, Stefano Capriati.
As a result of Capriati's dismissal from the squad, the Americans were forced to forfeit Capriati's scheduled singles match against 139th-ranked Evelyn Fauth on opening day of the tie, which left the U.S. facing a 1-0 deficit before a single shot was struck.
In the aftermath of that debacle it appeared Capriati may have burned her bridges in the road to representing the United States in either Fed Cup or Olympic play. But King, who at the age of 47 teamed with a then 13-year-old Capriati to win a doubles match in a WTA tournament in Boca Raton, has taken the high road in her relationship with the former Olympic gold medallist.
Today, King said she had a long discussion with Capriati's agent about the prospect of the former No. 1 perhaps participating in future ties. King's remarks suggested she is receptive to a possible reconciliation with the talented ? and sometimes temperamental ? Capriati.
"I didn't talk to (Capriati), but I talked to her agent," King said. "We talked for a long time. I thought probably I wouldn't choose her because she probably wouldn't get to play singles. We had a good talk. I said: 'Just make sure she's available.' And she said she's available, so that's working out pretty well right now and I'm happy about it."
Capriati wasn't the only top American King contacted about playing Fed Cup. King said she conducted email exchanges with Lindsay Davenport, Chanda Rubin, Monica Seles and Lisa Raymond about the prospect of playing. According to King, most of the top players made themselves available for the tie.
"Lindsay said 'Billie, if you want me, I'm there. But I've had a lot of tennis so far this year and if I take a rest that week and then if you need me next time (I'll play).' " King said. "I think Lindsay, Lisa and Monica and all these women have always played and it's great that they get a rest this week. I think some of the players, when they saw Venus and Serena were going to play, felt this would be a good time for them to take a break because most likely they would not be playing. But everyone has told me if I ever really need them to please tell them. So it's more a case of they're available, but they would rather pass on this knowing we have such a strong team this particular tie."
The United States owns a record 17 Fed Cup championships. The Slovak Republic beat Spain, 3-1, to win the 2002 Fed Cup title.
copyright Tennis Week, 2003
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