Team in transition as Garrison shifts focus to 2007

12/13/2006 - Tennis

Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison will get another shot at taking a U.S. team in transition and molding it into a contender next year.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Wednesday that Garrison's contract was renewed for the 2007 season, her fourth at the helm.

The big question looming for Garrison is what kind of player pool she'll have available. She was dealt a difficult hand early in the 2006 season when the top three U.S. players -- Lindsay Davenport and Venus and Serena Williams -- all were idled by injuries.

The young squad Garrison assembled for the first round matches in Germany in April was given virtually no chance to advance. But rising talent Jamea Jackson swept both her singles matches and veteran Jill Craybas chipped in with another win, enabling the U.S. team to reach the semifinals against Belgium in July. Belgium beat the U.S. team, then lost to Italy in the Fed Cup final in September when Justine Henin-Hardenne retired in the final doubles match.

So will Garrison go for experience or youth in 2007? She's hoping to have lots of options.

"I've already put some feelers out and told players it's going to be in their home country," she said. "I've put it on Lindsay's mind, and Venus said she'd look forward to it if she's healthy. I haven't talked to Serena yet." Garrison said she also has contacted Lisa Raymond, the world's top-ranked doubles player, along with younger players like Jackson, Vania King and Shenay Perry.

As a bonus, the team will play its first home competition in two years on April 21-22 against Belgium -- only the second time one of Garrison's teams has drawn home-court advantage. That edge will come in handy if both of Belgium's top 10 players, No. 1 Henin-Hardenne and fifth-ranked Kim Clijsters, decide to play.

Tuesday, Garrison said no decision has been made about the site and surface but said she'd lean toward hard court. Many top WTA players will have played on hard court in Miami in late March and shifted to green clay at tournaments in Amelia Island, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in the subsequent two weeks. Three-time French Open winner Henin-Hardenne and two-time finalist Clijsters -- who has said 2007 will be her final season -- will be gearing their preparation toward the premier event of the clay court season.

The Belgians beat the U.S. on their turf -- indoor hard court -- with Clijsters but without Henin-Hardenne, who pulled out, citing fatigue, after losing the Wimbledon final to Amelie Mauresmo the week before. That weekend also featured the pro debut of the 17-year-old King, who made the trip to Germany but did not play there. King has since climbed to No. 60 in the world and won her first tournament this fall.

"I stayed on her and let her know she could be a top player," Garrison said.

"The camaraderie was important for that team. They all just kind of jelled. They know they're the next tier of players."

Garrison said her Fed Cup coaching experience -- first as an assistant to Billie Jean King and now as captain -- has made her less of a "control freak," more accepting of what she can and can't do for her players.

"You have to stay simple" in the heat of a match, she said, motivating rather than trying to tinker with a player's technique.

"Ninety percent of the time, it's hard to get a player to change what they're doing," she said. "They're going to go with what they know, and their legs are going to be heavy because of the pressure."

Garrison, 43, who grew up playing on public courts in Houston, won 14 singles titles over the course of a 15-year pro career. She reached a career-high No. 4 in 1989 and was a Wimbledon finalist in 1990. Garrison compiled a 22-5 record as a Fed Cup player between 1984 and 1994 and has a 3-3 record as captain since succeeding Billie Jean King.

The U.S. has won a world-best 17 Fed Cup titles and made 26 appearances in the final, but its last championship came in the 2000 season.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.