Lisa Raymond
Friday February 1st, 2008

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The Australian summer has come to an end and the next stop for the women on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour early into 2008 is Federation Cup. Immediately, we're forced to shift gears from our individual mind set to the team concept.

Spread all over the map, players have taken flights to China, Italy -- even newly crowned Aussie Open champ Maria Sharapova flew to Jerusalem -- all in an attempt to continue the battle to bring the cup home. Fortunately for us Americans, we didn't have to travel far.

The U.S. faces Germany this weekend right here on home soil. Earlier this week, Ashley Harkleroad, Laura Granville, Lindsay Davenport and I met up at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club in this beautiful spot just north of downtown San Diego. This will mark the first time in the competition's history that Fed Cup play will be held in Southern California.

This will also be the first time Davenport has played in tennis' international team tournament since her incredible comeback after giving birth to her 7-month-old son, Jagger. A former Fed Cup stalwart, Davenport's participation will again be a valuable part of this matchup.

When asked about playing for her county, Lindsay has been outspoken in admitting that part of her motivation to come back on tour was to play in the Fed Cup and the Olympics again.

After spending a few days with Lindsay and her husband, Jon, at their home in Orange County, the two of us drove down here together on Tuesday afternoon. Funny the paths that life takes us on: Now, not only were we loading racket bags into the car, but diapers, formula and strollers as well. Jagger took the ride with us, sleeping most of the way as his mom and I chatted up front about the latest headlines.

For Harkleroad, this is her first time on a Fed Cup team; for Granville, her second. Both have been playing well recently and hope to take that confidence into the weekend. For me, I have never hidden the fact that I love playing in this competition. I couldn't have been happier when our captain, Zina Garrison, gave me the call again, and I couldn't be prouder.

Another new addition is our new coach, Mary Jo Fernandez. MJ and I have played on several Fed Cup teams together, as well as against each other numerous times while on tour. She will make a fantastic coach when she takes the reins from Garrison next year.

On the other side of the court is the German team, which consists of Tatjana Malek, Julia Görges, Sabine Lisicki and Anna-Lena Grönefeld. This is a young, but very hungry, group of women. Coming into the tie, they look like the underdogs on paper. But Fed Cup is one of the most unpredictable competitions out there, so you can never be so sure.

For us, this lead-in week has included the usual activities and day-to-day team-bonding regime: practicing together, meals together, hanging out in our lounge and taking in this incredible venue. Situated right on the beach, the views are incredible, and we wake up each morning to the sounds of the waves crashing.

But as nice as this week has been, it hasn't only been about the four of us. We had the opportunity to help out with a kid's clinic at the Barnes Tennis Center, making the days of hundreds of aspiring little tennis players. To actually see pro tennis players in person, to hit balls with the likes of a Lindsay Davenport -- whom they've probably only ever seen on TV -- to get her autograph and ask us all questions, the smiles on these kids faces become etched in your mind forever.

It all leads up to Saturday, when the competition begins. When we walk onto Stadium Court, with "USA" written across our backs, the feeling of pride and honor will envelop each of us. Hopefully the stands will be packed with red, white and blue as we begin our quest to win the cup for the first time in eight years.

After seeing the incredible run the U.S. Davis Cup team made late last year, bringing the cup home after a long absence, we have an added incentive to do the same. To be a part of something bigger than all of us, to feel that exhilaration of winning as a team, not only for ourselves but for your county: There's no prouder moment and no greater achievement.

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