The Davis Cup is the premier international team event in men's tennis that is run by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and is contested annually between teams from competing countries in a knock-out format. It began in 1900 as a competition between the United States and Great Britain but has now become the world's largest annual international team competition in sport, with 133 nations entering in 2019.
The Davis Cup has been described by organisers as the "World Cup of Tennis", and the winners are referred to as the World Champion team. The most successful countries over the history of the tournament are the United States, with 32 wins, and Australia, with 28 wins, while Great Britain and France are in third place with 10 wins.
James Dwight, the first president of the US National Lawn Tennis Association when it formed in 1881, was desperate to assess the development of American players against the renowned British champions, he worked tirelessly to engage British officials in a properly sanctioned match, but failed to do so.
Diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the United Stated on the tennis front had strengthened such that, by the mid-1890s, reciprocal tours were staged annually between players of the two nations, and an ensuing friendship between American William Larned and Irishman Harold Mahony spurred efforts to formalize an official team competition between the two nations.
Discussions were held during a tournament in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario between leading figures in American lawn tennis - one of whom was tennis journalist EP Fischer. Dwight F. Davis, an American tennis player and poitician, was also in attendance at the tournament and is said to have got wind of the idea for an international competition.
DWIGHT F DAVIS:
In the summer of 1899, four members of the Harvard University tennis team, Dwight Davis included, travelled across the United States to challenge the best west-coast talent. Davis found that the teams representing the regions evoked a good response, and thought that a tennis event that pitted national teams in competition would be just as successful. He approached James Dwight with the idea, which was tentatively agreed, which in turn led him to order an appropriate sterling silver punchbowl trophy, purchased with his own funds for about $1,000.
In 1900, a challenge match was played between the USA and Great Britain, the British Isles, at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, Massachusetts with Davis himself playing in the inaugural tie, steering his country to the first of many titles. The tournament was initially titled the International Lawn Tennis Challenge although it soon became known as the Davis Cup, after Dwight Davis' trophy.
From its inception, Davis Cup has attracted the top players of each generation, from former legends such as Fred Perry, Bill Tilden, Rene Lacoste, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, to latter-day stars such as Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
The World Group format was adopted in 1981, whereby 16 nations contested a knock-out draw over four weekends during the year to decide who is crowned champion. The remaining nations are split into three regional Groups across the Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe/Africa regions.
Each elimination round between competing nations is held in one of the countries and is played as the best of five matches (4 singles, 1 doubles). The ITF determines the host countries for all possible matchups before each year's tournament.
The World Group is the top group and includes the world's best 16 national teams. Teams in the World Group play a four-round elimination tournament. Teams are seeded based on a ranking system released by the ITF, taking into account previous years' results. The defending champion and runner-up are always the top two seeds in the tournament. The losers of the first-round matches are sent to the World Group playoff round, where they play along with winners from Group I of the regional zones. The playoff round winners play in the World Group for the next year's tournament, while the losers play in Group I of their respective regional zone.
Each of the three regional zones is divided into four groups. Groups I and II play elimination rounds, with the losing teams facing relegation to the next lower group. The teams in Groups III and those in Group IV play a round-robin tournament with promotion and relegation.