Thursday, July 31
King won't let Davenport come late

ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Lindsay Davenport -- a woman who literally sweated pounds away in Fed Cup play last July -- expressed distress Monday that captain Billie Jean King would not let her play in the next tie.

It started out as another Jennifer Capriati and Billie Jean King Fed Cup question that pops up at news conferences frequently. But then, Lindsay Davenport volunteered that she had been turned down by King.

"Billie runs a tight ship," Davenport said. "She's been tough on all of us. I told her I could play this next Fed Cup, but couldn't be there till Tuesday night because my mom is having surgery. She told me to forget it. I think she did the same to Serena. After playing 10 years, I'm not too happy either.

"But love her or hate her, she sticks by her guns and you just kind of go with it."

Because of those rules the No.1 and No. 5 players in the world won't be there if they're too busy to make it by Monday before their July 19-20 tie in Washington, D.C.

"Lindsay has been a tremendous contributor to the U.S. Fed Cup team, participating 10 years consecutively, a dedication matched by a handful of players throughout the history of Fed Cup competition," King said in a statement released by the U.S. Tennis Association. "Unfortunately, Lindsay advised us that she would not be available for the full week of competition. We look forward to having Lindsay play Fed Cup when she's available."

Serena said she had a prior commitment to an acting position on that Monday.

"It's hard to get jobs in the acting field," Serena said. "I kind of have to go do it. It's only for a day. I'd be able to make it later in the week. It's tough."

But Serena said she understands why King kept her off the team.

"I think maybe in my situation, I could understand Billie," Serena said. "I don't know the whole situation with Lindsay and her mom. If she can get there on Tuesday, I'm sure that's fine. But I don't know the whole situation."

Davenport said she hadn't talked to King in five or six months and she found out she wasn't selected for the team from another player.

"You know, I think I was more disappointed in the amount of years I've put into Fed Cup," Davenport said, "and how many ties I've put in and how many times I've asked for special favors, which is about zero, and one that I think is pretty understandable. You know, I'm obviously not going to miss being with my mom when she needs some support. So I'll think about it harder the next time."

Davenport said that this would not be the first exception ever made.

"She has given people permission to show up late before, and so that's kind of where I was going," Davenport said. "I didn't ask to have my coach on the court, I didn't ask to not practice with the team. I asked to come later, and I've been part of teams where other members have come later, even later then being at practice Wednesday morning."

"I think Billie Jean's rules are too stringent in general, but I don't want to comment anymore, just because I have already and it's just a waste of time talk about it," Capriati said with a flat, fatalistic tone. Capriati was kicked off the team more than a year ago in the middle of a tie.

However, both Williams sisters have expressed support for their captain..

"I think Billie Jean King is a great coach for Fed Cup," Serena said. "I think she does really well. I've learned a lot from Billie Jean King. I really, really enjoy Fed Cup. I really wanted to play, too, but I couldn't. I really, really enjoy it.

"Each time, I come out a better player. I really enjoy the experience of working with her and Zina Garrison."

In a conference call last week, King talked about her goals for the team.

"Garrison and I try to create an environment that's fun and make it so they feel like they've prepared the best they can," King said. "But I also want them to have a great experience."

King also knows how important it is for the top players to participate.

"Top players drive tennis," King said. "Top players drive every sport. Franchise players even in team sports seem to make such a big difference. Although they have years and years of loyalty, like say in baseball, baseball is over a hundred years old. Can you imagine the Cubs for how many years, the Yankees, whatever? It takes a long time."

Serena said sometimes it's difficult for the players to adapt to being on a team.

"We, as tennis players, our sport is a very individual sport," she said. "It's kind of hard sometimes to get the team camaraderie together.

"I don't think the rules are too strict."

"Billie Jean is definitely a great coach," Venus Williams said. "I love working with her the weeks that I'm at Fed Cup. Sometimes it is tough to be there a whole week for the weekend matches, and I think that probably affects the decisions of some players to play Fed Cup or not."

King places high emphasis on team sports. She created World Team Tennis and often talks about how much team sports means to her. It's a bit ironic that her strict adherence to the rules for team's sake has alienated one of the participants known for being a team player.

Davenport said what upset her the most was that she was always willing to be there for Fed Cup in the past and that this experience has made her less inclined to participate in the future.

"You know, it's just -- it's just a weird feeling," Davenport said on Tuesday after her loss to Venus Williams. "I just feel kind of over it now. Just I had a lot of good memories. And from what I've been told, you don't have to play Fed Cup to play the Olympics. So there's -- you know -- concentrate on other things now."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.