- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

As Meghann Shaughnessy’s lead began shrinking and her palms began sweating yesterday afternoon, Billie Jean King flashed back to a year ago.

In the first round of the 2002 Fed Cup, Shaughnessy let a big lead turn into a pivotal loss that decided her team’s fate in an embarrassing defeat to Austria.

Yesterday, Shaughnessy held on to her advantage and helped the United States take a 2-0 lead over Italy in the quarterfinals of the Fed Cup before 4,707 at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

The United States needs only a victory today in one of the two singles matches or in the doubles match that follows to wrap up the best-of-five event and advance to the semifinals.

Chanda Rubin beat Rita Grande 6-3, 6-3 to end the day that began with Shaughnessy’s 6-3, 6-4 win over Francesca Schiavone that evoked the flashbacks for King.

“You have to go back to when we played against Austria,” said King, the U.S. captain, of Shaughnessy’s 4-6, 6-7(7), 9-7 loss to Barbara Schwartz. “[Shaughnessy] had match point and lost the match. So for her, this was very important that she come back out and prove to herself that she can finish. There was a lot going on there today. There was some history.”

Shaughnessy and Schiavone had already met twice this year, with Shaughnessy easily winning both matches.

This one appeared to be headed in the same direction after Shaughnessy took the last three points to win the first set and then jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second set.

Schiavone, though, wasn’t about to be knocked out so easily, and took advantage of a suddenly tense opponent.

“I just got a little bit nervous and stopped moving my feet and going for shots like I was earlier in the match,” Shaughnessy said. “At the same time, she started going for her shots.”

Down 5-1 and facing match point, Schiavone rallied to get to two more deuces before salvaging the game and staying in it.

In the ninth game, after cutting the deficit to 5-3, Schiavone again faced match point, but got to deuce when Shaughnessy hit into the net. Schiavone closed to 5-4 when Shaughnessy sprayed another error.

Finally, after battling back from yet another match point and forcing two more deuces, Schiavone could not stay alive. Schiavone’s shot that sailed long on match point was so close to the line that Shaughnessy returned it to Schiavone, who then smacked it high and deep into the stadium’s upper level out of frustration.

Afterward, Shaughnessy laughed when asked the difference between this match and the two easier wins she had over Schiavone this year.

“The difference in the past two was that at 5-1 I didn’t do what I did today,” said Shaughnessy, who had beaten Schiavone 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-1.

Another change from the previous meetings was the presence of King on the sideline, because the Fed Cup rules allow coaches to sit in the players’ chairs. King made sure to take full advantage of the opportunity and offered her player some reassuring, yet direct, words of advice.

“I just told her she has to accept responsibility,” King said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re choking out of your wazoo or whatever. That you’ve got to accept it and find a way to get through it, even if it’s ugly. Just find a way.”

Rubin, ranked eighth in the world, also had more difficulties than expected against Grande.

Playing in her first Fed Cup since 1999, Rubin entered this tournament as the leader of the U.S. team that had expected to feature both Venus Williams and Monica Seles, who withdrew because of injuries.

Rubin flashed her dominance, but only after breaking free from 3-3 ties in both sets.

She nearly found herself in a 3-0 hole in the second set after trailing 40-15, but came back to get within 2-1 and cruised from there.

“In the first two games of the second set, I was a little bit low energy-wise,” Rubin said. “I didn’t really keep up the aggressive nature that I needed. That was something I had to change.”

She did, and now she and Shaughnessy will switch opponents in today’s matches and try to bring the United States that much closer to its record 18th Fed Cup title.

“Well, it’s exactly where we all want to be,” King said of her team’s first day. “I really believe in Chanda and I really believe in Meghann. Anything can happen in Fed Cup when you’re playing for your country. The important thing is just to win.”

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