Fed Cup goes on without Venus and Serena

Will they play? Won't they play?

That's the constant question when it comes to Serena and Venus Williams and Fed Cup. Whether they lend their name to the cause, back out of commitment or don't sign up to play at all, the Fed Cup and the Williamses just don't seem to mesh.

There are those fans who say stop picking on the sisters. There's no denying they're great players, not only the best in America, but often the best in the world. But let's be honest: The last time the Williamses played Fed Cup was way back in 2007.

Venus has the better Fed Cup history with a 17-4 win-loss record in eight ties played (14-2 singles, 3-2 doubles). She last played against Russia in the 2007 semifinal. Serena has been way less active with a 7-0 win-loss record in a skimpy four ties played (4-0 singles, 3-0 doubles). She last played against Belgium in the 2007 quarterfinal.

This summer, with a second straight final against Italy looming in November, U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez made the big announcement: The sisters were interested in playing. It really wasn't a surprise. San Diego, the location for the final, provided an ideal situation -- an opportunity to play Fed Cup at home and secure qualification for the 2012 Olympics. A player is required by the International Tennis Federation to be available to play Fed Cup in advance of every Olympics.

Injuries, however, not only put an end to the dreams of a Fed Cup final dream team, but also to the sisters' seasons: Serena was still experiencing complications from stepping on glass at a bar in Europe this summer, and Venus was suffering from chronic knee problems.

Sure, Fernandez would've loved to have the Williamses on her squad -- she's been the captain for two years now without a Venus or Serena sighting. But she isn't spending time bemoaning her fate. She's going with her go-to players: No. 58 Bethanie Mattek-Sands, No. 67 Melanie Oudin and No. 3 (doubles) Liezel Huber. Fernandez also added the constantly improving No. 114 Coco Vandeweghe to the mix.

"It's funny, I guess because I haven't had Venus and Serena on a team I'm not disappointed," Fernandez said. "It's not like I've had them, they've been winning so much, and now they're not there. I really don't know it any way else."

The U.S. owns a record 17 Fed Cup titles, but last won the competition in 2000. Having the sisters would've provided a team tough to beat, but some countered that changing up the team that did the grunt work to get to the final would have been unfair. Clearly, a moot point now.

"I think Melanie, Bethanie, Liezel, they want to win. I want to win," Fernandez said. "To me, it's all about contributing to the team and about being there. If Serena and Venus were able to contribute by playing and winning it then guess what, they would've been helping everybody."

Mattek-Sands wasn't surprised when she heard the now out-of-commission sisters were initially on tap for the final.

"You can't really argue against it, they're our top American players," Mattek-Sands said. "It's tough, we have a good team and we've gotten to the finals the last two years with the same core team. Yeah, I think we deserve a chance to play, but Venus and Serena are our best so I wasn't surprised they were initially chosen."

Fernandez says she isn't worried about being considered long shots against a more accomplished Italian team -- reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci are a united front and all rank in the top 45 in singles.

"We've really been the underdogs every tie," Fernandez said. "But we're finding ways to do it. We have the passion and it means so much to represent your country."

Fernandez wasn't ready to predict a U.S. victory; soothsaying isn't her forte. But heading into this coming weekend she had a very good feeling.

"I have a lot of faith," Fernandez said. "You've got to believe and I do believe we can win."