The United States won its first Fed Cup title since 1996 on Sunday, beating Russia 4-1 after Lindsay Davenport clinched victory by defeating Russian Elena Likhovtseva 6-4, 6-4.
Davenport’s reverse singles win gave the United States an unbeatable 3-0 lead and its record 16th Fed Cup overall.
“To win for your country and to have a really great team to play just means a lot,” said Davenport of the U.S.
“Dream Team” captained by Billie Jean King. “It’s a shame that it doesn’t get as much coverage as other sports, but it’s still a great honor to have this title for ourselves and for Billie.”
The U.S. team of No. 2-ranked Davenport, the 3-4 combination of sisters Venus and Serena Williams, and No. 5 Monica Seles was just too much for the Russians, especially without star Anna Kournikova.
Russia’s troika of Elenas — Likhovtseva, Elena Dementieva and Elena Makarova — didn’t present much of an obstacle for the Americans, who comprise four out of the top five women in the world. Russia, a three-time finalist seeking its first Fed Cup title in 22 years of competition, had advanced to the final via a pair of 3-2 wins over France in the quarterfinals and the Slovak Republic in the semifinals.
The U.S. lineup was so tough, in fact, that Seles’s services were not needed and the nine-time Grand Slam champion was relegated to cheerleading duties.
Likhovtseva even wondered aloud about how the Russians might be able to acquire some of the American-bred talent. “They are very good,” she said. “They can beat anyone, any team 5-zip. We can’t borrow players from them, right?”
The United States eased some painful memories of the team’s 3-2 semifinal loss in Spain one year ago.
“Well, it’s never erased, but it certainly softens the blow,” said King. “It’s good to remember that one because it keeps us hungry and striving forward. It’s great that we brought the Fed Cup back to the Untied States of America, where it belongs.”
Davenport and Likhovtseva, two tall, powerful baseliners, exchanged breaks in the first set until Davenport was able to establish some rhythm and take a 3-1 lead.
The 24-year-old Likhovtseva managed to pull within 5-3 in the first by moving the defending Wimbledon champ around the court, but the native of southern California proved to be too strong.
Davenport broke Likhovtseva at 4-3 in the second set and never looked back. Likhovtseva’s game plan was to keep Davenport on her toes, but she admitted that moving her 6-foot-2 opponent was trickier than she had anticipated.
“It’s very hard to get her moving, because she’s playing very deep, so it’s hard to bring it (the ball) back and put it wherever you want,” she said. Following the decisive match, Davenport and her teammates took a victory lap around the court carrying a U.S. flag while speakers blared the tune “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Playing in only her second Fed Cup tie, Venus Williams appeared to be in control early against Dementieva in Sunday’s dead rubber singles match. But Williams, who has been experimenting with more of a serve-and-volley approach and admits she has struggled with her serve, landed just 55 percent of her first serves and committed 40 errors in a one-hour 46-minute, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) loss to the 68th-ranked Dementieva.
Williams squandered a match point and her ponytailed 17-year-old opponent, making her Fed Cup singles debut, capitalized in the third-set tiebreak.
“It wasn’t like I was going to aim to lose the match,” Williams said. “I definitely felt good with my volleys today. I missed a couple, but that’s what it takes to learn. I’ll get there. If I don’t keep coming in, I won’t get there.”
In her first appearance since sweeping the U.S. Open singles and doubles titles one week earlier, 17-year-old Serena Williams joined her sister for a 6-2, 6-1 dismissal of Makarova/Dementieva in doubles.
“I just hope that we’ll basically have a dynasty from this group and some of the other players,” said King. “As long as everybody stays healthy, I think we can have a dynasty.”
The United States had jumped out to a 2-0 advantage on Saturday as Venus Williams defeated Likhovtseva 6-3, 6-4 and Davenport defeated Dementieva 6-4, 6-0.