SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – There was no controversy and little challenge for the American Fed Cup team this time around.
Determined to make up for an embarrassing loss to Austria earlier in the year, the Americans took the first two matches Saturday in the best-of-five series against Israel, then Monica Seles overwhelmed Anna Smashnova 6-4, 6-0 Sunday to put the United States back into the 16-nation World Group.
“It was just like a huge relief I think off all of our shoulders,” Seles said. “We knew it was kind of a do-or-die situation here.”
The Americans, who have won a record 17 Fed Cup championships, lost to Austria after team captain Billie Jean King dismissed Jennifer Capriati in a bitter dispute over practice rules.
“We just wanted to win it,” Seles said. “I was just very relieved and happy. We had a lot of pressure coming in. After losing to Austria, that was really hard on all of us. It’s been such a good week for us, on and off the court.”
In the second singles match Sunday, Lindsay Davenport beat Tzippi Obziler 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (1), the only time the Americans did not win in straight sets.
Appearing to fight her motivation as much as her opponent, Davenport split the first two sets, went down an early break in the third before she broke Obziler’s serve and ran out the match.
“Lindsay was teasing me when I walked into the tent just now, ‘You know how difficult it is for me to play these matches,'” King said.
After Seles won a close first set, Smashnova seemed to wilt in the 90-degree heat and under pressure of her opponent’s unrelenting ground strokes.
“I think I did get a little bit tired,” said Smashnova, Israel’s No. 1 player. “But Monica also got tired. She was the one leading, so it’s easier to maybe keep tiredness when you’re winning than when you’re losing.”
The U.S. team took a 2-0 lead Saturday when Seles beat Obziler 6-4, 6-2, and Davenport, in her first competition since knee surgery in January, defeated Smashnova 6-3, 6-3.
Seles made seven unforced errors in the first set and was having difficulty with her forehand. But Smashnova double-faulted twice on deuce.
“I thought Monica played better today,” King said. “She was much more aggressive off the ground particularly, and also a little bit on her serve. I think that made a big difference.”
After breaking Seles’ serve to get back to 5-4, Smashnova was unable to maintain the momentum.
The pattern continued in the second set as Seles became more aggressive with her ground strokes and Smashnova appeared to slow.
“I’m just happy I won,” Seles said. “I’m not really happy with my game, but there’s more to improve.”
In the final competition Sunday, Meghann Shaughnessy and Lisa Raymond, the world’s No. 1-ranked doubles player, were matched against Obziler and Hila Rosen.
The Americans moved into the World Group for the 2003 Fed Cup with a victory in their final match of the year.
Also winning playoffs to get into the World Group next year were Australia, China, Argentina, Czech Republic, Sweden and Slovenia.
In the Fed Cup quarterfinals, defending champion Belgium played without Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin and was eliminated by Italy.
The countries entered Sunday tied 1-1, but Silvia Farina Elia beat Els Callens 6-2, 7-6 (4), and Rita Grande defeated Carolina Maes 6-4, 7-6 (5) to put Italy in the semifinals.
Clijsters and Henin, both Grand Slam tournament finalists in 2001 and ranked in the top seven, skipped the matches on clay in Bologna to concentrate on the hard-court season and the upcoming U.S. Open.
Also reaching the final four were Austria, Spain and Slovakia. Austria beat Croatia, Spain topped Germany, and Slovakia surprised France.