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King hits the right note for U.S. team at Fed Cup

4/23/2007 - Tennis

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- With Serena Williams sidelined, Fed
Cup teammate Vania King showed she can do more than sing.

The 18-year-old King won raves for her rendition of the national
anthem to start the weekend, then substituted Sunday for Williams
and sealed the U.S. team's victory over Belgium.

King beat Kirsten Flipkens 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, giving the Americans
an insurmountable 3-0 lead en route to a 5-0 victory. They'll face
Russia in the semifinals after Wimbledon.

Serena and Venus Williams won in singles Saturday, then became
cheerleaders rooting from the bench for King.

"It's a great feeling, because they're champions I really look
up to," King said. "It's really honoring."

"She had a great performance," Serena Williams said. "It was
a pressure match, because it was the clincher. She was down a lot,
but she was able to come back. I thought it was a great match."

Williams pulled out a few hours before she was to face Flipkens,
citing soreness in her right knee diagnosed as slight inflammation.
She said the knee started bothering her before Saturday's match,
but she didn't think it would hamper her preparation for the French
Open next month.

Williams said the ailment was unrelated to the groin injury that
forced her to retire from a match in Charleston, S.C., on April 10.

After King won, Venus Williams beat Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-2.
In doubles, King and Lisa Raymond beat Tamaryn Hendler and Caroline
Maes 6-1, 6-2. The Belgians were without their best players,
top-ranked Justine Henin and No. 4 Kim Clijsters, who decided to
take the week off.

The Americans will play Russia on July 14-15 at a U.S. site to
be announced. Russia advanced by beating Spain 5-0.

Venus Williams said she plans to play against the Russians, but
her sister was noncommittal.

"We'll see," Serena said. "It's a long season. It's right
after Wimbledon. I think there's a good possibility."

France and Italy also won 5-0 and will meet in the other
semifinal.

King is a trained soprano and also the lone teenage American
woman ranked in the top 100. But she's only 4-8 this year and said
she began the match more nervous than when she sang the day before.

"It's a different feeling playing for yourself and playing for
your country," the Californian said. "I felt like it's my
responsibility to do the best I can for my country. It's not just
about me anymore."

She was fitter at the finish against Flipkens, who battled leg
cramps and repeatedly required massages during changeovers in the
final set.

Flipkens was also unlucky: A disputed line call went against her
when she was serving for the match at 5-4, and on the next point
she lost the game. Flipkens said she received several messages from
supporters after the match saying the ruling was wrong.

"That's life. That's tennis. People make mistakes," the
Belgian said. "That one point didn't make the match."

In the final game a gimpy Flipkens double-faulted and committed
three unforced errors, and King whacked a forehand passing shot for
a winner on the second match point.

That earned the teen a hug from U.S. captain Zina Garrison, and
the team began a flag-waving celebration.

"I felt like after the first set I loosened up a little bit,"
King said. "The whole team was there behind me and cheering me on,
and Zina was always pumping me up, trying to keep me positive and
fighting hard. So thanks to them."

The match was entertaining but sloppy, with the timing of both
players thrown off by wind so strong it blew a ball can past the
baseline. They waged long rallies that occasionally evolved into an
exchange of moonballs, but both also came to the net for frantic
exchanges.

After her slow start, King won the final four points of the
second set to pull even, and she went on to her first Fed Cup
victory.

When asked if King's stock had risen, Garrison smiled.

"Vania's stock rose yesterday when she sang the national
anthem," Garrison said.

In Moscow, Svetlana Kuznetsova clinched Russia's victory by
beating Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 4-6, 6-0. Russia is seeking
its third Fed Cup title in four years, while the Americans are
bidding for their 18th Fed Cup title. They've won the event more
than any other country.