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post #1 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 21st, 2003, 01:41 PM Thread Starter
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Fed Cup

Williams Sisters to Play Fed Cup

By Andre Christopher

Watch out Czech Republic. Watch out world. The Williams sisters are returning to Fed Cup.

Just off winning her fourth consecutive Grand Slam tournament title, Serena Williams and older sister Venus (whom Serena has beaten for those four major titles) have accepted U.S. Captain Billie Jean King's invitation to represent the United States when it plays the Czech Republic, April 26-27 in Lowell, Mass., in the first round of Fed Cup.

This will be the first time the sisters have played Fed Cup since the 1999 final in Stanford, Calif., where the United States beat Russia, 4-1. In fact, the Williams sisters have played Fed Cup only twice overall. They made their debut in the 1999 semifinals against Italy, where they became the first sister duo to play for the United States on the same Fed Cup team. Jeanne and @#%$ @#%$ were the first sisters to play on U.S. Fed Cup teams, but they did so separately.

The United States is playing the Czech Republic at the Paul Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass. For ticket information, call 1-888-334-USTA (8782).

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post #2 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 21st, 2003, 01:41 PM Thread Starter
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U.S. Fed Cup Team Registers Record-Setting Sell Out
By Tennis Week

The United States has yet to strike a single shot in Fed Cup competition this year, but has already registered a record-setting event.

The USTA announced a record sell out of Fed Cup tickets for the U.S. vs. Czech Republic first- round tie, set for April 26-27th, at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass.

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 Friday at 10 a.m. and all 5,741 tickets were sold out six hours later, by 4 p.m.

The participation of top-ranked Serena Williams and second-ranked Venus Williams on the U.S. Fed Cup team has created the record-setting ticket demand from tennis fans.

"This Fed Cup sell out further reflects that Serena and Venus are today's most famous female athletes in the world," said Arlen Kantarian, Chief Executive, Professional Tennis, USTA. "We look forward to a loud, patriotic and enthusiastic crowd in Lowell."

The U.S. will face the Czech Republic in a best-of-five match series in it's quest for a the Fed Cup, the world's premier international women's team tennis competition. The United States has a record 17 Fed Cup crowns.

The USTA and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Billie Jean King will announce the remaining team members to the U.S. Fed Cup team before April 16.

Two singles matches will played on Saturday, April 26th, at 1 p.m. followed by two reverse singles matches and a doubles match on Sunday, April 27th at 1 p.m.

Sixteen nations are seeking the 2003 Fed Cup title. The winner of the U.S.-Czech Republic tie will advance to the round of eight, July 19-20th, to face the winner of the Sweden-Italy tie. The round of eight winners will then advance to the final four Fed Cup World Finals in November.

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post #3 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 21st, 2003, 01:42 PM Thread Starter
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Shaughnessy, Stevenson to join U.S. Fed Cup team

March 25, 2003

BOSTON (AP) -- Meghann Shaughnessy and Alexandra Stevenson will join Serena and Venus Williams on the U.S. team in the first round of the Fed Cup against the Czech Republic next month.

Shaughnessy is ranked 22nd and Stevenson is 27th. Serena Williams and Venus Williams are ranked first and second, and were previously named to the squad that will compete in Lowell on April 26-27.

``We have an unbelievable team,'' Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King said during a conference call Tuesday.

Shaughnessy played in the 2002 Fed Cup against Austria and Israel. Stevenson will be making her Fed Cup debut.

King said some higher ranked players declined to join the team in the first round because it was already strong with the Williams sisters. King added that she received assurances they would be available for future rounds.

``They thought this would be a good time for them to take a break,'' King said.

This is the fifth time in Fed Cup history the world's top two players will be on the same team. The Williams sisters played on the 1999 Fed Cup team that won the title over Russia. Serena is 3-0 in the Fed Cup and Venus is 5-1.

The United States has won 17 Fed Cup titles, more than any other nation since the competition began in 1963. Slovakia won last year.

The Czech team has not been announced. The winner in Lowell will play Sweden or Italy in July.

``To be frank, most people don't know what the Fed Cup is,'' King said. ``This is our chance to put it on the map.''

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post #5 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 24th, 2003, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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Williams sisters beam inspiration
By Karen Guregian
April 24 2003
The Boston Herald

Serena Williams kicked in a serve, and 17-year-old Jennifer Seide of Hyde Park bravely struck it back. On and on the rally went, until the best player on the planet finally netted a return.

With that, Seide stepped away from the baseline, let out a scream, and let the next kid in line have a turn. Just seeing the beaming smile on her face, the same magical one practically every other kid in the building wore after hitting balls with the Williams sisters, along with the rest of the U.S. Federation Cup team, told the kind of story that will be retold and passed along in their families for generations.

It's really tough to beat spending an afternoon watching kids live out some of their greatest sports fantasies and dreams while also being inspired into having new ones.

That was the primary order of business at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury yesterday, as the U.S. team, in conjunction with Tenacity, the City of Boston and USA Tennis New England, conducted a clinic for more than 1,000 youngsters.

``It was nerve-wracking. I'm still shaking,'' said Seide, who, as an African-American teenager, has been inspired to pursue a tennis career thanks to the Williams sisters. ``I won my point, so I can quit now and say I beat Serena.''

Serena and Venus, the No. 1 and No. 3-ranked players in the world, and two of the most recognized female athletes - correction, athletes - in the world, are in town to compete in the match against the Czech Republic this weekend at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell.

Currently, they are to tennis what Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were to basketball in the 1980s. While they certainly carry the torch for both their gender and race, they transcend those boundaries. Serena and Venus are in no matter what category you put them in.

They are huge stars and even greater role models in the sports universe, and having them competing in the Boston area, as well as making appearances, is a big deal. One young girl came armed with a large poster with snapshots of the Williams sisters through the years, including the recent picture of Serena in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit edition.

``They are heroes to me,'' said 13-year-old Shavonne Hart of Roxbury, who received a huge hug from Venus. ``I respect what they do. They're definitely an inspiration for me to be as dedicated as they are. I used to play tennis, but right now I prefer basketball. Their message to me is no matter the sport, anything is possible.''

Hearing that kind of response also put a warm smile on the Williams sisters, along with Billie Jean King, who coaches the U.S. team with assistant Zina Garrison.

A large part of yesterday was about the players giving back and inspiring the next generation much like they were inspired. Talk about coming full circle, Venus remembered going to a similar clinic when she was about 8, and hitting balls with Billie Jean. She couldn't even describe how wonderful a feeling that gave her back then.

Serena recalled the impact of her first meeting with Garrison.

``I didn't have anything like this at all and I do remember one time meeting Zina Garrison and looking up to her,'' said Serena, winner of the last four Grand Slams. ``I thought it was the best thing in the world, so I can only imagine how these kids feel today.

``I hope they can go home and just say, I want to be an Alexandra Stevenson, I want to be a Venus Williams, I want to be like Serena. Hopefully, they can go home and think about that.''

Judging by a small sampling, it's mission accomplished. Perhaps even more compelling was watching the players having as good a time participating in the event.

``It's really special to see a lot of kids of different communities and different backgrounds. I was just over there hitting with one of them, and it made me feel really special,'' Serena said. ``These kids are all of a sudden starting tennis, and they're doing really well out here. I was hitting with one who wouldn't miss. That's how I am. I won't stop. It was fun. I'm really happy I came.''

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post #6 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 24th, 2003, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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Williams sisters serve up a good time

By Bud Collins, Globe Columnist, 4/24/2003

You wanted to draw a great big happy face on the gym wall at the Reggie Lewis Center because it would have been a reflection of 1,100 kids smiling and laughing -- hitting and missing -- as they bashed tennis balls at the world's leading practicioners of that diversion.Yes, indeed, the Sisters Sledgehammer -- Venus and Serena -- were hanging out for a couple of hours in Roxbury yesterday, amid a matinee maelstrom of fun that seemed a landscape of yellow polka dots. Balls were flying everywhere, rackets were flapping, kids were yelling joyfully and the planetary Nos. 1-2, Serena and Venus Williams, were having a good time, too. Beside the four courts, watching astutely, was a woman who used to be No. 1 herself, Billie Jean King.

Venus remembered being ''a little kid,'' actually almost looking up at Billie Jean (instead of towering over her), ''and my mom and dad took me to a clinic in Los Angeles. I got to hit some with Billie Jean. It was great.''Now kids of that age, younger and older, too, were hitting with Venus and Little Sister. Maybe someday they will tell their children and grandchildren about the afternoon they were on the court with the women who have made the world their tennis ball.

The sisters said they enjoyed themselves. Why not? How often does what they usually do on the job kindle grins and laughter from people on the other side of the net?Taking time off from their appointed duties as the US Federation Cup team, preparing for a weekend recital against the outwomanned Czech Republic at Lowell's Tsongas Arena, captain Billie Jean, Serena, Venus, Meghann Shaughnessy, and Alexandra Stevenson bopped into town for an eye-catching performance. They were introduced to mega-whoops, answered some questions, then squared off against all comers.

It was an occasion. Any time, any place the two-lady sorority shows up it's an occasion. This time, arranged by the US Tennis Association and Tenacity, a tennis and education program, it was a free show to show off the game's foremost attractions. The idea was inspiration.''It's wonderful for kids to see what tennis can do for them,'' said Alveda Haynes, director of the Sportsmen's Club, who brought 200 of that program's children. ''Not that they'll grow up to be pros, but that they'll respect education the way the Williams family has, and maybe tell their friends what fun tennis is. You can see it in their faces.''

The Sportsmen's, with its indoor courts in Dorchester, and Tenacity, using Harvard, Boston Athletic Club, and the Lewis Courts, are the town's largest programs, their doors admirably open to any Boston youngsters. On hand, too, were kids from the Stillman Center in Charlestown and the Franklin Park Tennis Association.''We filled the place, it's gratifying. Could have used more room,'' said Ned Eames, Tenacity's director.

Boston is lucky to have these havens for kids. Some from the BCYF (Boston Centers for Youth and Families) also attended. Juanita Wade, the BCYF director, said, ''How marvelous for the girls to see these women playing, to be impressed by their fitness, to be inspired to make sports and healthy living a part of their daily life.''So it was 1,100 kids taking on Serena and Venus? Not quite. The sisters had help from teammates and their teenage sparring partners, Ally Baker and Jamea Jackson, USTA coaches, and the Ivy League-champion Harvard women's team. It may have looked like a Byzantine fire drill, but the system worked. With amplified emcee Kirk Anderson directing constantly moving lines of traffic, eight kids at a time, two on each court, traded shots with Venus, Serena et al. Everybody got swats.

''Do you think the top male pros would do this for a couple of hours? Doubtful,'' said a guy who once was one, Buddy Schultz, operator of the Cohasset Tennis Club.One spectator, a former Brookline High tennis team captain named Michael Dukakis, wanted a shot at Serena, but was ruled overage. However, he could watch one of his successors, BHS's state champ Katrina Elderbush, whack a forehand that made Venus nod approvingly.

Ten-year-old Renee Baxter, who could give the Sisters a run sartorially, stepped up in pink trousers and pink balls attached to her four pigtails. She wasn't too sure who Venus was, but got one ball over the net, and departed pleased, determined to play more.Alicia Williams, 12, daughter of a Boston cop, said she can't beat him yet, ''but I will. Seeing Venus and Serena makes me want to work harder at it.''

Terry Gomes, president of Roxbury Community College, said, ''It's very nice to have these women on our campus. It was gratifying to hear Venus say she'll go to college when her tennis career is over.'' Gomes thought he could find room for her.Erik Gomez, 14, after hitting with Venus said, ''I was nervous, but it was fun. It was hard.''

Leave out the fun part, Erik, and you know how the women on the tour feel opposite the Sisters: nervous, and it's hard.

This story ran on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 4/24/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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U.S. Pulls Out Stops With Williams sisters#1

LOWELL, Mass. (April 24) -- U.S. Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King has brought out big guns Serena and Venus Williams for this weekend's tie against the Czech Republic to ensure her team does not suffer another first-round upset.

Last year, the U.S. was shocked at home in Charlotte, N.C., by a Barbara Schwartz-led Austrian team. In that tie, King kicked her top player, Jennifer Capriati, off the team, which resulted in the forfeit of their first match.

After Schwartz upset Monica Seles, King had to substitute Meghann Shaughnessy in the third match and Schwartz defeated Shaughnessy 9-7 in the third set, clinching the tie for Austria over a nation that has won the Fed Cup a record 17 times.

"We're very pumped up this year," King said. "After what happened last year, we are very determined to bring the Fed Cup back home. After Charlotte, the players really bonded together in their goals and commitments."

After winning the 2000 Fed Cup in Las Vegas over Spain, the U.S. opted out of playing the 2001 final in Madrid due to post September 11 security concerns. Belgium won the title.

King expected to raise the Fed Cup again last year until chaos reigned in Charlotte and Slovakia ended up winning the title.

"I will always be sad about it," King said. "But you can either see it as a disaster or a new opportunity.

"It's a motivational factor for all of us. Every single player has come up to me and said: 'We've got to bring back the Cup, this is ridiculous and let's just make it happen'."

With some of the top-ranked players in the world such as Serena (1st), Venus (3rd) Shaughnessy (19th) and Alexandra Stevenson (26th), the U.S. is heavily favored over a young Czech team headed by Daja Bedanova (44th), Iveta Benesova (71st), Klara Koukalova (73rd) Eva Birnerova (163rd).

"We have the best players in the world and we expect to win, but we can't afford to look ahead," said King, who has led her team to three titles in the last eight years.

"They (the U.S. players) are very motivated to make sure what happened against Austria doesn't happen again. But I'd never had a fully healthy team.

"In team play, the human element is so strong, the heart and soul. You never know what can happen -- especially in Fed Cup, when players are representing their countries," added King. "Bedanova could pull a Barbara Schwartz."

The Williams sisters have not played a Fed Cup tie since the 1999 final, when with Lindsay Davenport they led the U.S. to the title over Russia.

Since then Venus and Serena have each won four Grand Slam singles titles. Indeed, the two most powerful players in the world have won six out of the last seven singles Grand Slams.

This weekend, the 2000 Olympic gold medallist doubles team do not want to spend a minute off the court.

"Venus and Serena want to play everything," King said. "They are like let's go, let's rock, let's go do it."

King and her coaching staff have spent a fair amount of time working with former world No. 1 Venus, who has lost to her sister in the last four Grand Slam finals and last month was stunned by Shaughnessy in the fourth round of the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami.

"We're working on helping Venus play with high intensity all the time, getting her forehand more consistent and fixing technical problems in her serve," King said.

Even if the Williamses lead the U.S. to victory over the Czechs at the Tsongas Arena in the April 26-27 tie, there is no guarantee they will play in July against either Italy or Sweden or, should the U.S. get there, in November's final, King said.

"I don't know if they will. I haven't talked to them about it yet. I'd like all our players to commit for the whole year, but that's not how it works in the real world."

04/24/03 16:52 ET

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United States Fed Cup team member Venus Williams (news - web sites) (L) laughs with her sister and teammate Serena Williams (news - web sites) during a tennis clinic at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury Massachusetts, April 23, 2003. Williams and the U.S. Fed Cup team will be hosting Czech Republic Fed Cup team on Saturday. REUTERS/CJ Gunther

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post #10 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 25th, 2003, 05:26 PM Thread Starter
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From the Bob Larson Tennis International Newsletter:

Fed Cup Preview

The ITF, in recent years, has started producing Davis Cup rankings. This is reasonable, since it's a numeric way of summing up just how well teams have done lately.

But the usual purpose of rankings is to seed events -- i.e. to try to guess just which teams are most likely to advance and do well. We spent some time thinking about that -- maybe we'll even turn that into a column someday -- but two basic points emerged which make it almost impossible to produce good Fed Cup rankings. First, that the sample is too small (it's theoretically possible that the second-best team could face the U. S. in the first round, and go down in flames, and there goes its ranking; we need a lot more ties to get a really accurate ranking). And second, that any rankings applied to whole teams will be problematic, because they depend on the surface and the venue and on just who turns out. Belgium, for instance, is a powerhouse when Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne play. Take them away, and they're an also-ran.

But the team most likely to be afflicted by no-show-itis is Argentina, which will be hosting Slovenia. If Paola Suarez were on the Argentine team, and they were playing on clay (which is, of course, the surface they chose), they would be a significant force. Suarez is a Top 30 singles player, and is Top 20 (probably Top 15) on clay. And she's the world's #1 doubles player. A Suarez-led Argentine team would be expected to beat all but the most elite teams (Belgium, France, etc.). Problem is, Suarez isn't playing. Neither is Clarisa Fernandez, ranked higher than Suarez in singles (though far less consistent, even on clay, and not much of a doubles player). In fact, there isn't a Top 150 player on the Argentine team; they will be playing Maria Emilia Salerni and Natalia Garbollotto (and if you know anything about Garbolloto, you're better off than we are; she is currently ranked #697, with 12.25 points in three events, meaning that she's actually won some matches, but she's at best a prospect).

And the Slovenes, while they don't have any players in the Suarez league, have a much deeper team: Katarina Srebotnik is their #1 singles player, and she and Tina Krizan are one of the most regular doubles teams on the circuit. Playing #2 singles for them is Tina Pisnik, another solid player if not spectacularly good. We're a bit surprised that Maja Matevzic, the #2 Slovene, isn't playing in singles or doubles (she is listed as on the team), but it really shouldn't matter to the outcome. Frankly, this looks like a 5-0 sweep.

The schedules for the other ties have not yet been announced, but we do have the teams, so we can at least examine the prospects for each team.

The Czech Republic has the unenviable task of facing the United States on an American indoor hardcourt. The American team is rather interesting: It features both Williams Sisters -- and none of the other American regulars except Meghann Shaughnessy. Lindsay Davenport, Lisa Raymond, Chanda Rubin, and Monica Seles all chose not to participate, and of course Jennifer Capriati and captain Billie Jean King are not on the best terms. Given that the Americans are likely to blow through this tie, you have to wonder if King might not have been better off with one Williams this week and another in a later round. But she's certainly in fine shape for the moment. The Williams Sisters will presumably play singles (though Venus may want to get done quickly; she's scheduled to play Warsaw next week). We're guessing they won't want to play doubles, which leaves the U. S. with an awkward doubles team of Shaughnessy and Alexandra Stevenson. (The other possibility is that Serena might play with Stevenson; they played together last year, and won a title -- Serena's only doubles title without Venus, and Stevenson's only doubles title with anyone. It's too bad King didn't choose Martina Navratilova for doubles; she's ranked high enough now.) But it's really not very important; the U. S. should win based solely on singles against a team of Daja Bedanova, Klara Koukalova, Iveta Benesova, and Eva Birnerova. If it were us, we'd play Bedanova and Benesova in singles. Certainly Bedanova will play first singles, since she's the best the Czechs have even though she's in a slump; Benesova and Koukalova are ranked close together, and Koukalova prefers clay whereas Benesova's best results have been indoors. But we'd expect the U. S. to win by 4-1 or 5-0.

The Russian team that will play against Croatia is not so clear, because the Russians come in with three singles players ranked very close together: Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva, and Elena Bovina are all between #10 and #16. And all are reasonably comfortable on carpet, the surface for this tie. Dementieva just won her first title, but she's also the best doubles player of the bunch. Since Myskina is the weakest doubles player, we'd play her in singles, Dementieva and Bovina in doubles, and perhaps have Dementieva and Bovina each play one singles match. Tatiana Panova is a capable fourth. And Croatia probably can't put up much resistance. Iva Majoli had decent indoor results, way back when, but these days she can hardly win a match. And the rest of the team -- Karolina Sprem, Darija Jurak, and Matea Mezak -- have a combined WTA record over that past three years of 0-1 (Sprem lost first round at Bol 2002). Don't expect this tie to yield too many highlight film moments.

Last year, Austria stunned the United States, helped a little by Jennifer Capriati and a lot more by their secret weapon, Barbara Schwartz. Unfortunately, against Belgium, neither will be on their side; Schwartz, the Aaron Krickstein of women's tennis, is hurt again. They do have Barbara Schett back on their team, but Schett isn't the player she was even a year ago. The fact that they're playing on clay (a strange decision by the Belgians) will help a little, since it makes Patricia Wartusch at least a slight threat -- but with Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne leading the Belgian team, it is unlikely to matter. The only real question about this one is who will play doubles for Belgium. Els Callens, of course, but do they wear out Kim Clijsters to play with her, or go with Caroline Maes? It isn't likely to change the result, though.

The tie between Spain and Australia shows how significant surfaces can be. On grass, it would be an absolutely fascinating tie. Indoors, Australia would be favored, and possibly also on hardcourts, though by a lesser margin. But the Spaniards, naturally, have chosen clay. Alicia Molik has posted some pretty nice clay results recently, with two straight finals, but it's not her best surface, and Nicole Pratt likes it even less, and even doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs has done better on faster courts. Whereas the Spaniards will be playing Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual and Magui Serna. (This is why grass would make it interesting: It's a great surface for the Australians, but all three of the top Spaniards have arguably posted their best results on grass: Martinez won Wimbledon, and Serna made the Eastbourne final, and Ruano Pascual has beaten both Martina Hingis and Serena Williams at Wimbledon.) It's hard to guess who will actually play for Spain -- Martinez, of course, in singles, and Ruano Pascual (the world's #2 doubles player) in doubles. Probably Serna (who is on a 10 match winning streak) in singles, and perhaps whoever is least tired for the other doubles match. However it lines up, though, the Spanish will have a big edge.

The France versus Columbia tie probably wouldn't be interesting on any surface -- but the French were rather nice to their opponents and chose to play on indoor clay. That at least gives the Columbians, with a team headlined by Fabiola Zuluaga and Catalina Castano, a faint chance to make things interesting. Amelie Mauresmo should of course win both her matches for France, but Nathalie Dechy might be a little more vulnerable. And France, interestingly, is a bit weak in doubles; the team that, a few years ago, would have featured Julie Halard-Decugis (who retired as the world #1 in doubles) and Nathalie Tauziat, rounds out its team with Emilie Loit and Virginie Razzano. We'll probably see Dechy/Loit in doubles, but it's not as strong a team as they might have had. Still, France looks quite solid.

Clay also featured in the tie between Germany and the Slovak Republic, with the Germans choosing to play on outdoor clay. That may well be a very chilly contest -- but it will likely be interesting also. The Slovaks are in pretty dreadful shape right now. Their #1 singles player, Daniela Hantuchova, is much the highest-ranked player in the tie, but her singles game is a mess, and she hasn't done anything in doubles this year. Their #1 doubles player and #2 singles player of last year, Janette Husarova, isn't here. That leaves slumping Henrieta Nagyova to play #2 singles, with Lubomira Kurhajcova and Eva Fislova rounding out the team. On paper, the Slovaks are much stronger. But clay equalizes things a bit, and the Germans have two solid upset artists in Marlene Weingartner and Barbara Rittner. And both of them like clay. The interesting choice for the Germans is who to play in singles: Anca Barna is their top singles player, but less of an upset artist. If it were us, we'd go with Barna and Weingartner in singles, play Rittner in doubles with someone -- and hope Hantuchova stumbles. Given that she's stumbled a lot lately, this one could well be close.

The Sweden vs. Italy tie is taking place on an indoor hardcourt, and it's another one that features two messed-up teams. Sweden is playing without Asa Svensson, far and away their best player in both singles and doubles (though she would surely have chosen to play on clay). But the Italians look like they're on strike again. Their best singles player, Silvia Farina Elia, is hurt. Francesca Schiavone isn't here either. Their #3 singles player, Rita Grande, is off. So is Tathiana Garbin, one of their better doubles players. That leaves Flavia Pennetta and Antonella Serra Zanetti as their singles players, and Roberta Vinci and somebody in doubles. But against a Swedish team of Sofia Arvidsson and Maria Wolfbrandt, it probably won't matter.

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Sisters put pop in Fed Cup
By Dan Ventura
April 25 2003
The Boston Herald

There's one simple reason why this weekend's Fed Cup tickets have sold at a record pace: the announcement on Feb. 15 that Serena and Venus Williams committed to playing for the U.S. team.

The commitment of the local public is a testament to the drawing power of the Williams sisters. The two have become a mega-industry in their own right, both appearing on the prestigious Forbes Power-100 list and inking some of the most lucrative commercial contracts (Venus recently signed a five-year, $40 million deal with Reebok) in the sports world.

``Serena and Venus have transcended tennis,'' said women's tennis legend Billie Jean King, who will captain the U.S. team this weekend against the Czech Republic at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell. ``Everyone knows who they are and whenever the two of them come to an event, it's sold out.''

Joining the Williams sisters on the U.S. team are Meghann Shaughnessy (ranked No. 19 in the world) and rookie Alexandra Stevenson (No. 27). King, who has had some personnel problems in recent history, is thrilled with the squad she has assembled and loves the interaction of the four players.

``We have great team chemistry, everyone really likes one another,'' said King, who will be assisted by former Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison. ``I don't think I've ever been around a team that has had as much fun.''

King's presence was one of the key selling points for Serena Williams, who is playing Fed Cup for the first time since 1999 when she helped the U.S. defeat Russia for the title.

``I'm really happy to be playing Fed Cup. It's a great opportunity for me to work with Billie Jean King, one of the greatest players ever,'' said Serena, who is 21-1 on the WTA Tour this year. ``It's also fun to be part of a team because tennis is an individualistic sport.''

The most experienced player on the team is Venus Williams. The third-ranked player in the world, Venus also competed in 1999 and won five of her six matches against Italy (a 4-1 U.S. win) and Russia (also 4-1). After a three-year sabbatical, Venus Williams was more than ready to return to Fed Cup.

``I think it's important for everyone to try and play Fed Cup, but sometimes it's hard because we do take breaks during the year,'' Venus said. ``I enjoy working with Billie Jean because I learn so much from her - I always play better after Fed Cup because of her.''

The only U.S. player who played in the qualifying rounds was Shaughnessy. She appeared in matches against Austria (3-2) and Israel (5-0), splitting her two matches. Like the Williams sisters, much of the appeal of playing Fed Cup comes from playing for King.

``She is just an unbelievable role model for all of us,'' said Shaughnessy, who defeated Venus Williams in Miami last month. ``Growing up, you hear so much about her and it's great just to be around her.''

Stevenson, 22, is the rookie of the group, the only player without Fed Cup experience. She burst onto the tennis scene in 1999 when she became the first female qualifier to reach the Wimbledon semifinals, and has been chomping at the bit for a chance to represent her country.

``I wanted to play so badly, but I knew I was a borderline choice,'' Stevenson said. ``I was so glad that the other four girls ranked ahead of me decided not to play.''

The Americans will face a Czech squad which already has suffered one setback. Denisa Chladkova, the top-ranked player from the Czech Republic (No. 40 in the world), decided not to play, preferring to remain home and concentrate on her struggling game. Daja Bedanova (No. 44) will be the No. 1 singles player for the visitors and is joined by Iveta Benesova, Klara Koulakova and Eva Birnerova.

Koulakova opened some eyes with her play in the qualifier against Canada, defeating both Jana Nejedly and Marie-Eve Pelletier in a 5-0 win. Benesova also competed against Canada, defeating Pelletier in a third-set tiebreaker. Bedanova returns to Fed Cup play after a two-year absence.

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post #12 of 193 (permalink) Old Apr 25th, 2003, 05:28 PM Thread Starter
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Sisters sink teeth into Cup
By Bud Collins, Globe Columnist
April 25 2003
The Boston Globe

LOWELL -- Do I sense a rift between the Sisters? Can all that togetherness be coming apart, strained by their civil war for top-bananaship in a year-round, round-the-world amusement called tennis?

''Serena won't give me any toothpaste,'' Venus says. Venus took careful care of Serena when they were little girls, bought her ice cream and lunch, helped her cross streets. Isn't she entitled?

But now that the younger Ms. Williams has replaced the older Ms. Williams as No. 1, Venus's cry isn't ''Where's the beef?'' No. It's ''Where's the toothpaste?''

Is this a duel over dentifrice that might drive them apart? It has been suggested that Big Sister is depressed over her inability to defeat Little Sister in the finals of the last four major championships.

''Do I look depressed?'' smiles No. 2, her face wreathed in another new look -- bangs.

No, she doesn't appear gloomy, but there's the toothpaste issue.

You see, Serena recently signed a $500,000 deal to endorse a paste called Close-Up. Tubes were handed out last month at Key Biscayne, where Serena won the title, beating Jennifer Capriati in the final. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that Serena gave me two large tubes. Free. Does that compromise me? I hope not. Is it superior to baking soda? Sorry, I'm not a dentist. But baking soda probably doesn't pay 500 grand.

''I didn't get any,'' Venus says.

''You didn't?'' Serena laughs.

Billie Jean King, captain of the US Federation Cup team, the Sisters' minder for the weekend, giggles, wondering if sibling rivalry can be brushed away by a hurried transference of a case of toothpaste from Serena to Venus.

''Well . . .'' Serena offers an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. But she doesn't say the paste is in the mail.

She does say that she's ''gone back to work, harder than ever.'' After beating Capriati, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, to win the Nasdaq 100 on the Key, she startlingly stated that she had practiced little and avoided the gym a lot. ''I heard about it from my mother [Oracene Williams, their co-coach with Papa Richard Williams].''

So the Sisters are in Lowell, another new town in their on-the-road existence, about to face the Czech Republic tomorrow and Sunday on behalf of the United States, a best-of-five series in the world team tournament called the Federation Cup. It should be ova, ovahere, briskly, since the tourists (Daja Bedanova, Iveta Benesova, Klara Koukalova, Eva Birnerova) are substantially ova-matched.

Still, it all fits since this is the hometown of author Jack Kerouac, whose 1957 novel, ''On the Road,'' launched his reputation as a spokesman for the Beat Generation. While Venus and Serena travel at a higher level than Kerouac's bumming across America, they surely are godmothers at beating up their generation, a trek that continues at Tsongas Arena, honoring another native son, a truly great American, the late Senator Paul Tsongas.

Although Lowell, an ex-textile capital, is hardly a tennis hive, the Williamses' presence means sell-out. It was here that the town's namesake, Francis Cabot Lowell, designed the power loom circa 1812. The looming power of Venus and Serena is to fill 5,741 seats.

Venus says, ''It's wonderful to represent our country. But not many people know about this Cup. I try to explain that it's the women's version of the Davis Cup, but Serena and I would like to call attention to it.'' They will, wherever they go as team members, roles they haven't played since the 1999 Cup seizure. But they weren't 1-2 then. ''It takes four wins to take the Cup, and we'd like to do it.''

That's a sweet quote to Capt. King's ears. Billie Jean was an original (along with Carole Caldwell Graebner and Darlene Hard) just 40 years ago in beating Australia, the Cup's unveiling. A few years ago, the ITF (International Tennis Federation that mindlessly baptized the Cup for itself) had the bright idea to change the name. About time. But what happened was a brilliant amputation of seven letters -- to Fed Cup, easily confused with Fed Up or FedEx. Can you believe they paid a consulting firm for such outstanding lack of imagination?

Clearly, the Cup should have personality and panache, bearing the name of a grand figure. Obviously, the only name that works is the King Cup (better still, the Billie Jean Cup). Who has done as much for tennis -- or women's sport? Alan Schwartz, new US Tennis Association president, should load his lobbying guns immediately to get this done.

Meanwhile, be confident that Billie Jean, impersonating the Tooth Fairy, will see to it that Venus gets some of Serena's toothpaste under her pillow. Throw in floss and an electric toothbrush, please, captain.

But don't read too much into this tempest in a tube. The Sisters remain as close as adjoining molars.

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Venus Williams to Open for USA Against Czechs

United States Fed Cup team captain Billie Jean King is leaving nothing to chance this year. With last year’s first round loss to Austria still in her mind, she nominated her two best players, Serena and Venus Williams, for every match of this weekend’s Fed Cup World Group first round tie against the Czech Republic, which begins Saturday afternoon in Lowell, MA, at today’s draw.

Venus, currently #3 in the world, opens on Saturday against Daja Bedanova, while world #1 Serena faces Iveta Benesova. The sisters, who have won six of the last seven Grand Slams between them, will face Klara Koukalova and Eva Birnerova in Sunday’s doubles rubber as well. It is a textbook mismatch in every instance – the Czech contingent has just one WTA Tour title; Serena has won two already in 2003.

“We have nothing to lose. We just can surprise,” said Czech Republic captain Petra Langrova. “No one expects anything from us. The girls, they can just feel free and play the best tennis they can.”

The Czech’s upset bid begins with Bedanova, the owner of the team’s only WTA crown. The 20-year-old’s résumé also includes a win over American Monica Seles at the 2001 US Open and a third-round finish at last year’s Wimbledon, when her world-ranking peaked at #18. She is 3-3 in Fed Cup play.

“I’ve played Venus and Serena before, so I know what it’s gonna feel to be on the court against them,” Bedanova said. “Obviously, this team has been beaten before. I mean, it’s very tough to do. It’s not so easy, but we’ll just try to surprise them and do our best.”

The elder Williams and Bedanova have met twice before with Venus winning both matches easily – 64 61 in Philadelphia in 1999 and 61 63 three years ago in San Diego.

Saturday will be the first meeting for Serena Williams and Iveta Benesova. Williams, the winner of the last four Grand Slams, has not played since her loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne at Charleston a few weeks ago, which ended her 21-match winning streak. Benesova, on the other hand, has been struggling. She began April with consecutive losses to unseeded players at Casablanca and Estoril.

This is the first Fed Cup appearance for the “first sisters of tennis” since 1999 when the U.S. won the entire tournament with a 4-1 victory over Russia in the final. For both, this is their third Fed Cup nomination. They have a combined record of 8-1.

“With the way the schedule is on the tennis tour, sometimes it’s tough to make a commitment so early,” Venus Williams said, explaining their absence. “Sometimes I do take a week to rest, but [the fed Cup] is definitely a high priority for me.”

Sunday’s doubles’ match-up follows the two reverse singles matches.

The United States and Czech Republic have met nine previous times in Fed Cup play, with the USA holding a 7-2 advantage. They last played in 1994, a 3-0 victory to the Americans.

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Transcript: Venus Williams Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Venus.

Q. It seemed like after that second game you just started perking up.

VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, I wanted to get a break right away. The tension and the competition is different in the Fed Cup. I really, really wanted to play well for the team and not just for me. So I really believe my intensity level was at a different level because of that. I'm hoping I can take this on to my other matches, too.

Q. You pretty much did everything right today - you served well, you returned really well, pretty aggressively. Were you pretty happy overall?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I was very happy because I've been working very hard in practice with Billie and Zina, been working on a lot of things. It's paid off in the match. I was very excited.
Even though the score line looked easy, she played really well. I had to hit my winners, I had to push her out of the way. I had to make her make the forced error. Because the court was fast, she was taking advantage of that with the serve and volleys, and coming in.
So I think toward the end there, I was able to get a few free points.

Q. Seems like you took her heart away when she had the 40-love lead and you came back and took that game.


Q. Do you remember that particular game?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I was trying to watch her body language. But more than anything, I was really, really interested in really staying focused the whole time, which I thought I did well, and just getting the win for the team (laughing).

Q. I thought you did excellent. Did you control her rhythm?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, maybe. Every player has a rhythm they like to play at. Once they get out of that rhythm, then that's tough. But I can play fast, slow. I can't really say I exactly have a rhythm because I'm always playing fast. So if anything, I guess I don't let players get into a rhythm.

Q. What did you think of the atmosphere of the arena?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Oh, wonderful. From the very first point, it was great. I never played in a place like that before. It was really, really good. You can just tell people are so excited to have tennis here in Lowell. It's very, very nice. Everywhere you go, there's Fed Cup posters - the bookstore, museum, went to the spa, everybody knows about Fed Cup.

Q. Could you sense her getting frustrated as the match wore on?

VENUS WILLIAMS: A little bit in the second set I did feel like she was, because it's hard. When you're playing, you try to say, "Okay, this is not working, let's go to something else." You try to figure out what the answer is.
She probably got to the point where she couldn't find an answer and didn't know what to do.

Q. Compared to the previous times you had played her, were there any changes or anything?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I remember playing her once. I don't know if I've ever played her again. But I think she tried to play a lot faster today than the times I've seen her play and the time that I did play against her.

Q. Say that again?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I think she tried to play faster today, to really take it to me, just come out and take the match.

Q. You like to play fast, don't you?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Fast, slow... If someone plays slow, maybe it's harder because they come in. If they play fast, maybe they're not used to that. When I concentrate on my game, if someone beats me that day, they played better.

Q. You hit a slam-dunk-Pete Sampras-type overhead.

VENUS WILLIAMS: I know (laughing). All of a sudden, my legs went up and there I was. I wasn't even thinking about it. I just did it. That was so much fun. You really have to time it. I wasn't even thinking about timing it. I just jumped up. That was nice.

Q. Given the fans are here to see you two and victory is assumed, do you feel additional pressure to put on a show?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Oh, no, no, no, no. Going into the match, like the first game, I was down 15-40. It was very, very even for the first four games.
I think what made the difference is my week of practice, of course, and I was really, really, really determined to get the win for the team. I really wanted to do my part and start out well. It's so much easier for the second player to know there's a little lead there.
That's really what I wanted to do. I knew she was going to come out and really try to play because I've played Fed Cup before, I know how people come out and play very well.

Q. Have you made a commitment beyond this weekend for Fed Cup?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I really want to play next time assuming that we're able to win. Of course it's 1-love now. But assuming that we do get the win, I would love to play the next one.

Q. What is it about this experience that's sold you on the fact that, "Hey, I want to come back"?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I just had so much fun with the whole team. I've learned so much from Zina and Billie. I've been able to really work hard and focus. I don't have any excuse of why I can't show up to practice (laughter)...like at home, so...
I really just had a great time. I really feel like I've grown as a player, and I don't really want to give up this kind of experience.

Q. Do you have to recruit your sister into this?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, she's a separate person, so I don't know what she'll do. But I'm sold. I love it. I love playing for the team. It's an unbelievable feeling. Even though the score line was not as difficult today, I felt very, very excited. I was very excited because it wasn't just for me, it was for the team. We had a lead. It was great.

Q. What have you learned this week? You said you learned a lot. What have you learned, specifically?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I think that Billie and Zina, they have a whole lot of experience. Even if I don't quite agree with something or I have a different way of doing it this week, whatever they said, I did it right away and I found out that it was correct. I think that's helped a lot.
Also, it's very, very helpful to hear it, hear someone say the same thing, but in a different way. Because I've been working with my coaches for years and years, and sometimes it can just go in one ear and out the other ear, you don't really hear what they're saying.
Today, or this week, I've had to listen up and do it right. I think that has been very, very good for me.

Q. This is something you'll carry on beyond the Fed Cup?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Oh, for sure. I have to, I really do, in order to play well. More than anything, I'm having fun. I had a lot of fun out there. Sometimes I was ready to smile - but I knew I'd lose focus - because I was doing things that I'd done in practice and we talked about. I was ready to laugh and give someone a high-five, but it wasn't time for that (laughter).

Q. What about in terms of getting your game to the next level? I know your level is high, obviously. You said there are things you can carry on.

VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, my level's pretty good, as a player. I think it's just the small things like getting more first serves in or more placement or a deeper second serve or more balls in play. I think Billie and Zina understand it's the small things that take you above and beyond the rest of your competition.

So that's what I've been working on this week. I don't even know what the other players have been working on. But each session, even when I'm hitting with the other players, is very individualized. So you get a lot of attention and it's nice.

Q. Was that as well as you've served in a long time? If it was, was it a direct result of Zina and Billie?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Even before I got here, I'd really been working on my toss, to control it, because it's been difficult for me to keep that ball in the same place, and it throws off my serve.
But, yeah, we've been working on it, and that's especially one specific thing that's helped. I do want to serve better. I've been working on my serve the last two weeks a lot, and it's a really key part to my game. I win a lot of points off of it. I feel if I can serve even better, it's gonna just help me even more.

Q. How much do you know about Czech Republic? Can you find it on a map?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I don't know a lot about the Czech Republic. I remember I was watching this program on TV (laughing). It was about the Golen. So I know a little bit about that. I don't know a lot. I do know that I really, really, really want to go to Prague, but there's not a high enough level tournament. Maybe one day if we play the Czech Republic again, it will be in Prague. But if I have some time off, a couple of days...

Q. What about the rest of the weekend in terms of this tie, what's gonna happen, do you think?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, I'm gonna go out there now, support Serena in the singles, and tomorrow, I'm the second singles match. Hopefully, Serena will get the win today and we'll have a good start for tomorrow. But it goes by fast, this weekend.

Q. You looked so good out there in that uniform.

VENUS WILLIAMS: Which uniform, the USA?

Q. The dress itself, the red, white and blue motif. You looked so great. The American Davis Cup players look like bums (laughter). Do you have to get your sponsor to agree to make that sort of dress?

VENUS WILLIAMS: I'm not sure exactly the rules. Because everyone around me, like the contacts from Reebok, they make sure they get the right apparel, so they don't contact me directly. I do know they wanted...

Q. Reebok made your dress?

VENUS WILLIAMS: Yes, this is my US Open dress, though. I think Serena's is completely different, it's got the colors on it. It's no problem. I think they wanted us to wear certain colors, but I don't quite remember. Especially for the doubles, they want you to look the same. Hopefully, they'll approve of the outfits.

Q. You're way ahead of the men.


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