FRENCH sweep Czechs 3-0 for quick start in Fed Cup; Germany eliminates Australia

Thursday, November 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ France and Germany won ties Thursday in the Fed Cup.

France got off to a quick start in its bid for a second Fed Cup title as Sandrine Testud and Amelie Mauresmo won their opening singles matches en route to a 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic.

Testud defeated Kveta Hrdlickova 6-4, 6-1 and Mauresmo won over Denisa Chladkova 6-2, 7-5 in the best-of-three tie. France took doubles as Nathalie Tauziat and Testud swept by Petra Cetkovska and Alena Vaskova 6-3, 6-2.

The loss Thursday left the Czechs with no chance of reaching Sunday's final after a 2-1 loss on Wednesday in Pool A to Russia.

Germany won its best-of-three tie against Australia, taking an unassailable 2-0 lead as Blanka Lamade defeated Alicia Molik 7-6 (2), 7-5 and Barbara Rittner outlasted Nicole Pratt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. The loss also gave Australia no chance of reaching the final.

On Wednesday, Spain swept Australia 3-0 and Belgium won by the same score over Germany for perfect starts in Pool B.

Russia took a 1-0 lead over Argentina in Thursday's other tie as Nadia Petrova's defeated Clarisa Fernandez 6-4, 6-3. Elena Dementieva played Argentine Maria Emilia Salerni in the other singles.

Argentina was without No. 1 player Paola Suarez, who suffered a left ankle injury last week. She practiced Thursday and may play Friday.

The Fed Cup field is divided into two, four-team round-robin groups with the two leaders playing in Sunday's final. France, Russia, Argentina and the Czech Republic are in Group A, and Belgium, Germany, Spain and Australia are in Group B.

France won its only Fed Cup in 1997 and is expected to challenge Belgium for the title.

``With this format, you want to win quickly,'' Mauresmo said. ``That's what I tired to do today. I didn't want to go into a third set. For Sandrine (Testud) it was good for her also to win in two sets.''

Mauresmo said the surface of the newly installed indoor clay courts was ``a little bit strange. When I got here Saturday it was very hard to play with bad bounces, but it's getting better.''

Like it was on opening day, attendance Thursday was light in the 6,000-seat venue with organizers hoping for large crowds over a three-day weekend in the Spanish capital.

Madrid is virtually free of any advertisement for the finals. Organizers are blaming poor attendance on the absence of the Americans. The venue _ a huge exhibition center north of Madrid _ is also difficult to reach.

``You have to expect that when there is this kind of format,'' Mauresmo said. ``When Spain is playing there are probably some people, but when other teams are playing there are just a few people in the stands.''

``We have our own crowd that came, so it's fine,'' Tauziat joked. ``What do you us to do? Not play?''

Germany, which replaced the two-time defending champion Americans, got what it came for _ a victory over Australia. Rittner said the Germans knew they had little chance against Belgium, and will be underdogs Friday against Spain.

``We came here very happy that we got the chance to play,'' Rittner said. ``Our biggest chance was to beat Australia. Now we have one victory, that was our goal, so tomorrow we can relax and enjoy the matches.''

There was controversy Wednesday when Belgium's captain accused the United States of using the attacks two months ago as an excuse to skip the tournament.

Ivo Van Aken, whose team is favored in this showcase team event for women, insisted the Americans did not want to play on clay.

``It's obvious that they didn't want to play on clay after the Masters and to come here just for one competition,'' Van Aken said. ``That's why they're not here. The events of Sept. 11 gave them an excuse.''

The U.S. Tennis Association said Wednesday it would not comment.

The Americans pulled out of the eight-team tournament last month, citing security concerns. They have won the Fed Cup 17 times and would have been favored with a team that could have included Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, sisters Venus and Serena Williams and Monica Seles.

In play Friday: Spain vs. Germany, Belgium vs. Australia, Russia vs. France, Czech Republic vs. Argentina. Only two matches are set for Saturday: Belgium vs. Spain, France vs. Argentina.