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Timing Not Great for U.S.


LAS VEGAS — Weary or wounded?

Both would describe the state of the U.S. women's tennis team as another long season crawls to a conclusion this week in the Fed Cup Final at Mandalay Bay.

* Lindsay Davenport: The campaign to regain the world's No. 1 spot from Martina Hingis took a serious hit, as did Davenport's psyche, when she lost in three sets to ascending star Elena Dementieva in the first round at the Chase Championships last week in New York. It was Davenport's first loss to the 19-year-old Russian in six matches

* Monica Seles: The poetic ending eluded her once again in the final of the Chase Championships, just as the ideal finish slipped away in the 1998 French Open final. She not only had to deal with the emotional loss to Hingis in the final, but she also needed treatment for a pulled groin muscle.

* Lisa Raymond: That must have been an interesting conversation between Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King and Raymond after Venus and Serena Williams turned down the Las Vegas invitation. Raymond felt wronged by King when bypassed for the Olympics in favor of Serena Williams and lost her bid to go to Sydney after taking the case to arbitration. The controversy took a mental toll on Raymond for several months, but she put the past aside when asked to play in Las Vegas.

* Jennifer Capriati: Another injury, this one to Chanda Rubin, paved the way for Capriati's participation. The year has been erratic for the 24-year-old Capriati, who reached the Australian Open semifinals and suffered a first-round loss at the French Open.

The format, and the team, was quite different when the U.S. won the Fed Cup last year against Russia at Palo Alto. Venus and Serena Williams played, which meant Seles spent the entire weekend on the bench.

That was a two-day competition--four singles matches and one doubles. The format has been tinkered with this year. It's a four-team event, starting today and concluding Saturday. There will be no action on Thanksgiving.

King is not entirely satisfied with the format.

"I prefer having us together earlier in the year," she said. "A lot of players are so busy or else they're injured. There's always something. It's a tough call.

"I think next year the ITF and everyone is working together to try to come up with a better answer."

As defending champion, the U.S. received a bye into the final four.

Belgium emerged from group play in qualifying matches earlier this year. It is led by two talented teenagers, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, and veteran Dominique Van Roost, who is retiring after Fed Cup. "We're going to be hearing a lot more from Clijsters and Henin as time goes on," King said. "They're definitely stars in Europe right now."


Fed Cup Semifinals

Today-Sunday at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas

TODAY, 4:30 p.m.

Czech Republic vs. Spain

* Daja Bedanova (C) vs. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (S)

* Kveta Hrdlickova (C) vs. Conchita Martinez (S)

* Daja Bedanova-Kveta Hrdlickova (C) vs. Conchita Martinez-Arantxa

Sanchez-Vicario (S)

WEDNESDAY, 4:30 p.m.

United States vs. Belgium

* Monica Seles (US) vs. Justine Henin (B)

* Lindsay Davenport (US) vs. Kim Clijsters (B)

* Lindsay Davenport-Lisa Raymond (US) vs. Els Callens-Dominique Van Roost (B)

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