U.S. loses to Austria after Capriati's dismissal

Monday, April 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Billie Jean King insists she made the right decision, kicking Jennifer Capriati off the Fed Cup team in a move that led to the early ouster of the United States.

The Americans lost 3-2 to Austria on Sunday, beaten in the first round of the Fed Cup for just the second time.

The United States started play down 1-0 after forfeiting a singles match. King, the captain, removed Capriati from the team before play began, ruling players could not practice with their individual coaches.

King said she wanted to send a message and wouldn't hesitate to do so again.

``My only regret is we didn't win,'' she said. ``We're a great team, we're all together in this. ... Every single person's on the same page on this.''

The three remaining team members _ Monica Seles, Lisa Raymond and Meghan Shaughnessy _ supported King's decision.

``You know, I'd like to ask (Jennifer) why she didn't want to follow the team rules, and if it was worth it for her to trade that,'' Shaughnessy said. ``The bottom line is there were rules and it was Jennifer's decision not to follow them. She needs to know that there are consequences.''

Shaughnessy, a rookie in Fed Cup play, was supposed to play only doubles. But she was forced to replace Capriati in singles and started Sunday needing to beat Barbara Schwartz to save the Americans from elimination.

But Schwartz, ranked 75th, followed Saturday's victory over Seles with a 4-6, 7-6 (7), 9-7 win over Shaughnessy to give Austria its clinching third win.

After beating Shaughnessy with a crosscourt backhand, Schwartz threw her arms in the air and screamed as her teammates ran onto the court to hug her.

She then grabbed an Austrian flag and ran around the court as Shaughnessy packed her things and walked off, waving slightly to the capacity crowd at the Old Providence Racquet Club.

``For us, when we came here, little Austria, it was the big United States, the No. 1 nation and such great players,'' Schwartz said. ``It's unbelievable for us to win here. I don't even find the right words.''

Austria snapped a seven-match losing streak to the United States in Fed Cup play while the Americans were eliminated in the first round for the first time since 1997. The Americans were trying to win their 18th Fed Cup title.

In other first-round play, Kim Clijsters pulled out of Belgium's match against Australia because of a shoulder injury, but Justin Henin won in straight sets to lead the defending champions to a 3-1 victory.

Slovakia won the final doubles match and beat Switzerland 3-2; and Croatia also needed a victory in the last doubles match to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2; Italy shut out Sweden 5-0; Germany slipped past Russia 3-2; France edged Argentina 3-2; and Spain overcame a first-match loss to beat Hungary 4-1.

The United States won consecutive titles in 1999 and 2000, but withdrew from competition last year because of security concerns following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The women returned eager to reclaim the title, but had little chance after Capriati was tossed off the team.

Under King's rules, all practices are closed to the players' individual coaches and agents, and players are prohibited from practicing on their own time. Stefano Capriati, the player's coach and father, tried to attend practice early in the week but was barred by King.

The tension culminated Friday when Capriati said she planned to practice with her father and a hitting partner after the U.S. team was done for the day. King told her she was not allowed to do it, and the two argued.

King said she doubted Capriati would be back on the Fed Cup team next year.

``I just have to calm down and reflect,'' she said. ``I would imagine that probably as long as I'm captain, she won't be back, but that's just speculation.''