-The United States clinched its first Fed Cup title since 1996 today when Lindsay Davenport defeated Russian Elena Likhovtseva, 6-4, 6-4, for a 3-0 lead in the best-of-five finals.

There was a little drama in the next match when Elena Dementieva overcame a 4-1 deficit in the third set and defeated Venus Williams, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), to prevent the United States from sweeping the event.

But Williams and her sister, Serena, joined in doubles to defeat Dementieva and Elena Makarova, 6-2, 6-1, to make the final score 4-1.

Following her victory, Davenport and her teammates circled the court carrying an American flag and saluted the sold-out crowd of 4,004 at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium on the Stanford University campus.

"It was great," Davenport said. "This is the second time I've been on the winning team and it's a great feeling. To win for your country just means a lot. It's still a great honor to have this title for ourselves and for Billie [Jean King, the U.S. coach]."

It is the third Fed Cup title of the 1990s for the United States, the first in three years and the 16th overall since play began in 1963. It also eases the disappointment of losing to Spain in the Fed Cup semifinals last year.

"It's never erased but it softens the blow," King said. "It's great that we brought the Fed Cup back to the United States of America where it belongs."

The United States gets more than just bragging rights with the victory. Under a new format starting next year, the defending titlist receives a bye and will host the semifinals and finals in November 2000.

Some of the world's top players opted to skip Fed Cup play this year, including No. 15 Anna Kournikova of Russia and Switzerland's Martina Hingis, who is ranked No. 1. King repeatedly has referred to the U.S. squad, which also includes fifth-ranked Monica Seles, as a "Dream Team" and already is looking ahead to building a Fed Cup dynasty.

Davenport, ranked second in the world, was overwhelming in needing 1 hour 15 minutes to get past the 17th-ranked Likhovtseva, who hit more accurately than she did in her loss Saturday to Venus Williams.

But it took a while for Davenport, who stretched her Fed Cup singles winning streak to 12 and her overall record in the event to 18-2, to gain that advantage. The two traded breaks to open the match before Davenport held to go up 3-1, then won the next two games to take a 5-1 lead. Likhovtseva battled back by moving Davenport around the court for the next three sets, but couldn't keep up that winning strategy.

Davenport, who had been broken twice in the first set, finally rediscovered her serve and slammed home the winner on a duck of a return from Likhovtseva.

The turning point in the second set came in Game 6, following a change-over. Davenport came out of the break looking as if she rested for at least twice the two minutes allotted. Her volleys were a little stronger, and she evened the set at 3-3 by hitting a second-serve ace.

Davenport kept up the pressure by breaking Likhovtseva, who managed to capture just one point in the next game. The players held serve the rest of the way, with Davenport closing the match without allowing Likhovtseva a point in the final game.

"They're very good, and they can beat anyone," Likhovtseva said of the U.S. Fed Cup team. "We can't borrow any of their players, can we?"