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U.S. eliminated by Russia in semis

| Monday, July 11, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

MOSCOW -- The United States was without two of the best players in women's tennis for the Fed Cup against Russia, and it showed.

The defending champion Russians completed a 4-1 victory Sunday and will play for the title at France on Sept. 17-18. The French reached the final for the third straight year, defeating visiting Spain 3-1 in Aix-En-Provence in a rain-shortened semifinal.

The Americans needed to scramble in their semifinal because of injuries to Australian Open champion Serena Williams and top-ranked Lindsay Davenport.

"It was a tough situation," U.S. captain Zina Garrison said. "We knew it was going to be tough when we came in. And we tried to repair as much as we could, but we came up short."

The United States has won the Fed Cup 17 times -- more then any other nation -- and has been runner-up nine times. Its last title, however, came in 2000.

The Americans began the day down 2-0 in the best-of-five competition on indoor clay at Olympic Stadium, and Wimbledon champion Venus Williams kept her team alive by downing Elena Dementieva 6-1, 6-2 in reverse singles. Russia then clinched its spot in the final when Anastasia Myskina beat Jill Craybas, 6-2, 6-4.

In the inconsequential doubles match, Vera Douchevina and Dinara Safina defeated Williams and Corina Morariu, 6-1, 7-5.

"It was difficult to find energy after so many weeks of playing," Williams said. "I definitely was not my normal self for sure. Last night I wanted to win for the team and that was important. It's definitely hard because it's not just one person. It's a disappointment for the whole team."

In Fed Cup playoffs, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Germany won their series and will play in the elite group next year.

Myskina, last year's French Open champ, had little trouble against 60th-ranked Craybas, who substituted for Mashona Washington.

"It was much tougher for me to play against Venus yesterday because she is playing on a much higher level," said Myskina, who beat Williams in the opening singles Saturday. "Today I knew that we had a great chance to win and if I were to miss it that would have been terrible for the team."

Myskina was glad she didn't have to face Williams yesterday.

"I think she was really hurt that she lost to me," Myskina said. "Her ego was hurt and she really wanted to give a point to her team. That's why she found extra motivation."

Myskina has an 18-4 Fed Cup record and is unbeaten in the last 10 matches. She won both her singles matches against France in last year's final, then won the decisive doubles.

"I'm really happy when I'm back on the team," she said. "Team spirit is really important for me."

In France, Amelie Mauresmo provided the winning victory, downing Nuria Llagostera Vives 6-3, 6-1 to make it 3-0. Spain's Arantxa Parra-Santonja then beat Severine Beltrame 6-4, 6-4. Doubles was abandoned because of rain, with Anabel Medina Garrigues and Maria Sanchez Lorenzo leading Mauresmo and Mary Pierce 2-1.

Mauresmo is looking forward to the rematch with Russia.

"That's good," she said. "We've faced them several times over there. Now we get to host them."

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