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By Richard Pagliaro - The United States will not defend its Fed Cup crown when the Fed Cup finals begin in Madrid, Spain on Wednesday and the world's top-ranked is discouraged with the direction the event has taken. Lindsay Davenport is disillusioned with Fed Cup due to the International Tennis Federation's decisions that she believes have damaged the Fed Cup format.

The two-time defending champion U.S. team withdrew from the final last week due to concerns over safety and security surrounding the international crisis in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on America. Davenport said she wouldn't have played Fed Cup anyway.

The 25-year-old Davenport has been a dominant Fed Cup force, registering a 21-2 record in Fed Cup play. A year ago, Davenport, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Lisa Raymond formed a formidable U.S. squad that swept Spain in the final to capture its 17th Fed Cup championship in Las Vegas and avenge its 1998 loss to Spain in the final held in Madrid. In last year's final, Davenport defeated Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 and clinched the Cup with a 6-1, 6-2 triumph over Conchita Martinez.

Despite its victory in last year's final, the U.S. was not selected as host nation for this year's Fed Cup final. Instead the ITF, the governing body of Fed Cup, selected Spain as the host nation. Davenport declined to play the final months before the U.S. withdrew from the event and said she was unsure why the U.S. decided against attending.

"I have no idea why the USTA decided that (to withdraw)," Davenport said. "I told them months ago I would not play, I didn't want to play on clay. We were told as the United States we were going to host it again, then the ITF every year has changed the format, changed the site, done everything to screw Fed Cup up. So I said I wasn't going to play. I don't know why the other players decided not to play and why the US didn't send a team. They could have made a statement, but I wasn't going to be there even if they did send a team."

The American team was scheduled to lead Group A, which includes 2000 semifinalist the Czech Republic, third-seeded France and Argentina. Germany has replaced the U.S. in Group A.

French Open finalist Kim Clijsters and Wimbledon runner-up Justine Henin lead second-seeded Belgium, which tops Group B that includes fourth-seeded Spain, Russia and Australia. On the strength of singles standouts Sanchez-Vicario and Martinez, Spain has reached the Fed Cup final in eight of the last 10 years.

Davenport believes Belgium and France are the favorite to capture the Cup this week.

"I believe France and Belgium are both playing. They're both sending all their players," Davenport said. " I would probably say one of those two teams (will win). I think Clijsters and Henin on clay are very good. Again, (Amelie) Mauresmo and probably (Sandrine) Testud or (Nathalie) Tauziat are a very good team as well. I would say they're the favorites."
 
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