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By STEPHEN WADE<br />AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP) -- Saying it was worried about the ``safety and lives'' of its players, the defending-champion United States pulled out of next month's Fed Cup finals in Madrid.

The Fed Cup is the highest-profile international sports event from which an American team has withdrawn since the Sept. 11 attacks. Golf's Ryder Cup, scheduled in late September between American and European teams, was postponed until next year.

The U.S. Tennis Association said Thursday it wasn't a good time for elite American athletes to compete abroad as a national team.

``We're disappointed that we won't be able to defend our Fed Cup title, but with the concerns over security this was obviously the most prudent decision for us,'' U.S. captain Billie Jean King said. ``The safety and lives of our entire team come first.''

The United States is the two-time defending champion of the Fed Cup, the women's version of the Davis Cup, and received a bye into the world finals.

The Americans beat Spain 5-0 last November in Las Vegas for a record 17th championship.

The team could have included No. 1-ranked Jennifer Capriati, Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles.

The Americans, who have played in every Fed Cup since its inception in 1963, were part of an eight-team field that also includes Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Argentina, Russia and Australia.

International Tennis Federation spokeswoman Barbara Travers said a replacement for the Nov 7-11 event would be selected by Monday. Germany is the top candidate, followed by Slovakia, Italy and Switzerland.

``We regret that the USTA felt it necessary to withdraw their team from the upcoming Fed Cup World Finals,'' ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said. ``I am certain that the American team is very disappointed that they will not be able to represent their country. We respect their concerns.''

Travers said the USTA had first asked for extra security.

``We've been working toward that, but I think in the current climate they were very nervous about coming,'' she said. ``It's never a good thing when you lose your defending champion, but we have a lot of great players coming, solid teams and people with big track records.''

Lisa Raymond, who played on last year's U.S. team, said she understood the decision.

``I think that as far as security is concerned it is the right decision to make,'' she said. ``But I'm disappointed the United States won't have a chance to defend the Fed Cup title.''

Raymond made the comments in Luxembourg, where she is playing in a WTA tournament.

``Here I'm playing as an individual American,'' she said. ``My profile is a lot more low-key than if I were representing the United States on a team in Madrid.''

Pedro Hernandez, a spokesman for the Spanish tennis federation, said the absence of the Americans will make it difficult to fill the 5,000-seat indoor arena.

``The absence of the Americans isn't good for anybody,'' he said. ``They have five of the top women in the world, and they all are world personalities in tennis.''

The United States was to play in a four-team round-robin group with France, Argentina and the Czech Republic. Spain, Australia, Russia and Belgium play in the other group. It was not immediately clear if the groups would be redrawn.

The order is based on the combined ranking -- as of Oct. 1 -- of the top two players likely to play.

[ October 25, 2001: Message edited by: Josh ]</p>
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