The final women's tennis event of 2003, the Fed Cup, gets under way in Moscow Wednesday, with both semi-finals of the women's team event. In the first match Belgium plays the United States. Then France takes on the hosts, Russia. But three of the top four players in the world have bowed out of the event.

This is the 40th anniversary of the Fed Cup, formerly the Federation Cup, the event founded to give the women an equivalent to the highly popular Davis Cup.

As any player wanting to play in the Olympics has to make themselves available for their country, the Fed Cup has had a good line-up this year, but with a mouth-watering semi-final in prospect, the four biggest names in women's tennis have dropped out.

The top two, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, both wanted to preserve their seven-week off-season, but did not say so until after Belgium's failed bid to host this week's tournament.

With the Williams sisters still recovering from injuries, it makes the Belgium-USA semi-final less interesting. Still, Belgium has thrown in its world junior number-one Kirsten Flipkens to face America's Meghann Shaughnessy, and the tie might still be live when Martina Navratilova puts her 37 match unbeaten Fed Cup record on the line in the doubles.

By contrast, the other two semi-finalists, France and Russia, have had no withdrawals, and the winner of that semi ought to claim the cup. World number four Amelie Mauresmo opens against the 12th ranked Vera Zvonareva before Mary Pierce plays her first representative match for six years against the world number eight Anastasia Myskina.