Americans Eager to Reclaim Fed Cup

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – U.S. women return to Fed Cup competition Saturday, eager to earn their 18th title after withdrawing from the event last year in the wake of Sept. 11.

The U.S. team did not attempt to win its third straight title last October, citing security concerns for opting not to travel to Madrid for the finals following the terrorist attacks.

But with the opening round on American soil for the women’s version of Davis Cup tennis — the United States plays Austria beginning Saturday at the Olde Providence Racquet Club — the U.S. women are anxious to get the trophy back.

“It was unfortunate circumstances last year, but I think we made the right decision not to do,” said Lisa Raymond, who will team with Meghann Shaughnessy in doubles on Sunday.

“As a team, we’re all hungry to get the cup back and hopefully win another title.”

The U.S. has played in every Fed Cup since 1963, winning it a record 17 times with eight runner-up finishes. Belgium won last year when the Americans pulled out.

The United States is the top seed in the event and heavily favored to beat Austria. The winner plays the Czech Republic or Croatia in a second-round match July 20-21, and U.S. captain Billie Jean King said the women will be there.

“We were upset we didn’t go last year,” King said. “We are not a no-show kind of people. We show up, we play and we play hard. When we win, we will have to go in July and we will be there.

“There has been no discussion whatsoever of not going and getting the cup and bringing it back to the United States of America.”

Play begins Saturday with Monica Seles, the No. 2 player on the U.S. team, facing Austria’s top player, Barbara Schwartz. Jennifer Capriati, the No. 2 player in the world, plays Evelyn Fauth, ranked No. 139 in the world, in the second match.

On Sunday, Capriati plays Schwartz, Seles plays Fauth, and Raymond and Shaughnessy team to play Schwartz and Marion Maruska.

Austria will be without Barbara Schett, its top player, who opted not to play in the Fed Cup to concentrate on getting ready for next month’s French Open.

She’s been criticized for the decision because the Fed Cup matches in Charlotte will be played on clay and would have been a good French Open tuneup for Schett, who would have faced both Capriati and Seles.

“She said she had to play next week in Hamburg,” Austria captain Alfred Tesar said. “I’m not happy about this.”

King did not comment directly on Schett’s absence, but said it was important for the top players to represent their countries each year.

“It is so important for our sport and for our country that the top players play because people want to see the best,” King said. “Some players in other countries don’t want to participate. They’ve held up their federations for tremendous amounts of money to play, ridiculous amounts.

“They don’t understand that this is about hopefully having fun with teammates and playing for your country and relationships. Maybe later in life they’ll understand that winning matches is not the most important thing.”