France up 2-0; Clijsters wins for Belgium

Updated: April 24, 2004, 5:47 PM ET
Associated Press

Defending champion France took a 2-0 lead over Germany in the first round of the Fed Cup on Saturday behind victories by Amelie Mauresmo and Nathalie Dechy.

Russia, Austria, Argentina and Italy also held 2-0 leads in their best-of-five series in World Group play.

There were 1-1 splits in three series: United States at Slovenia, Croatia at Belgium, and Switzerland at Spain.

Doubles and reverse singles are Sunday.

In Amiens, France, Mauresmo eased by Barbara Rittner 6-1, 6-2, after Dechy struggled to beat Anna Lena Groenefeld 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-4.

"I recovered after a difficult start," Dechy said.

In Bree, Belgium, Kim Clijsters played in her hometown and beat Jelena Kostanic 6-1, 4-6, 6-1. Karolina Sprem of Croatia evened the score by stopping Kirsten Flipkens 6-2, 6-0.

Belgium, the 2001 champion, is without top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, who is recovering from an energy-sapping virus. Clijsters had been sidelined but wore a brace on her left wrist.

"Until three days ago I had not played my backhand for six weeks," the second-ranked Clijsters said, adding her wrist was still stiff.

"I know that it wasn't a perfect match ... but I really wanted this," Clijsters said. "You can train as much as you want, but it's getting back into match play that counts."

In Portoroz, Slovenia, Venus Williams of the United States routed Katarina Srebotnik 6-1, 6-2 to even the score after Tina Pisnik upset Lisa Raymond 7-5, 7-5 on a soggy court.

Williams won 18 of the first 20 points in running up a 5-0 lead.

"The first set was really good, I didn't have many errors," Williams said. "I felt very comfortable in my game."

The United States has won the Fed Cup 17 times, more than any other nation in the tournament's 40-year history. The Americans are without Serena Williams, who has a knee injury.

In Moscow, Anastasia Myskina and Svetlana Kuznetsova won their opening matches, sending Russia to a 2-0 lead over Australia.

Myskina defeated Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-1 and Kuznetsova made her Fed Cup debut with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Alicia Molik.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, Gisela Dulko rewarded the home crowd by topping Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 6-4. Paola Suarez won the second match, defeating Akiko Morigami 6-4, 6-0.

Dulko, 19, was making her Fed Cup debut. Sugiyama had 10 double faults.

"I was surprised at the many unforced errors made by Sugiyama," Dulko said. "I saw she was nervous from the start, but then she's not that used to playing on clay.

In St. Poelten, Austria, the hosts came back to win both matches against 2002 champion Slovakia.

Barbara Schett beat Janette Husarova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, and Barbara Schwartz downed Ludmila Cervanova 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-2.

In Maglie, Italy, Francesca Schiavone rallied past Barbora Strycova 5-7, 6-1, 6-0, and Silvia Farina Elia downed Klara Koukalova 6-3, 7-6 (6) as Italy took a 2-0 lead over the Czech Republic.

In Murcia, Spain, the Swiss won the opener when Australian Open semifinalist Patty Schnyder beat Marta Marrero 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5. The hosts answered with a victory by Fed Cup veteran Conchita Martinez, a 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 decision over Emmanuelle Gagliardi.

Spain, a five-time Fed Cup champion, lost to Slovakia in the 2002 finals.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press