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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Medal hopes take hit with Serena, Capriati out

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Just a few hours before she was supposed to board the U.S. Olympic tennis team's flight to Athens, Serena Williams sent word via e-mail that she wouldn't be going to the Summer Games.

With Jennifer Capriati staying Stateside, too, the Americans' medal hopes suddenly went from strong to suspect. Don't tell that to coach Zina Garrison, though.

"We're fired up and ready for the challenge,'' Garrison said Wednesday night after arriving in Greece. "This is the Olympics, and this opportunity doesn't happen every day.''

The United States has dominated women's tennis at the Olympics since it returned as a medal sport at the 1988 Seoul Games, winning seven of the eight golds. At Sydney four years ago, Serena teamed with older sister Venus to win the doubles, and Venus won the singles.

Now, instead of having three of the world's top players -- three major champions -- playing singles during the Aug. 15-22 tournament, Garrison will have Lisa Raymond and Chanda Rubin joining the sixth-seeded Venus in singles.

And in doubles, Rubin will replace Serena as Venus' partner. Venus has never played a tournament doubles match with anyone other than her sibling.

"I am sad and disappointed, not only because I am unable to travel to Greece and participate in the Olympics,'' Williams said Wednesday, "but also because I gave my word that I would play.''

In New York before the team's flight, the six-time Grand Slam singles champion saw a doctor Tuesday and was told not to compete in Athens because of lingering pain in her left knee, U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Randy Walker said.

The doctor "advised her that if she were to play, she'd risk serious long-term repercussions on her knee,'' Walker said.

Williams' withdrawal came a day after 1992 singles gold medalist Capriati announced she wouldn't play because of a hamstring injury. Capriati's spot in the Athens singles event was taken by the 40th-ranked Raymond, Martina Navratilova's doubles partner.

Williams, who earlier this year expressed concern about safety in Athens, withdrew from WTA tournaments in San Diego and Montreal in the past few weeks because of swelling in the knee. The former No. 1-ranked player had surgery to repair a partial tear in her left knee last August and was sidelined for eight months.

"Serena has been battling injuries all year and we, as a team, are disappointed that she will not be able to join us in Athens,'' Garrison said. "We understand that Serena has been undergoing extensive physical therapy since San Diego and that her withdrawal has been based on the advice of her doctors.''

Williams notified the USTA of her withdrawal via e-mail three hours before the team's flight was scheduled to depart.

"I feel that I am letting down my sister Venus, Zina, and the other members of the U.S. team by not participating. I have been advised that by playing, I could cause long-term damage to my knee,'' Williams said. "I will be starting extensive rehabilitation immediately, and look forward to coming back stronger than ever very soon.''

Because the deadline for teams to replace players on their rosters was last Saturday, Williams will be replaced in Thursday's draw for the singles event by Samantha Stosur, an Australian ranked 96th.

Williams reached the top of the rankings a year ago by winning five of six major tournaments, beating her sister in each final. After winning Wimbledon in 2003, though, she didn't compete again until the WTA event at Key Biscayne, Fla., in March.

During that tournament, which she won, Williams acknowledged she was concerned about the threat of terrorism during the Olympics.

"My security and my safety and my life are a little bit more important than tennis,'' she said at the time. "And so if it became a real to concern to where I personally wouldn't feel comfortable, then I wouldn't go to Athens.''

The next day, though, Williams said she didn't like the way her remarks were characterized and said: "I'm 100 percent planning on going to Athens.''