Considered the world's pre-eminent men's team tennis tournament, the Davis Cup made its debut in 1900 when a Harvard student named Dwight Filley Davis donated the silver trophy as the prize for a team tournament that summer at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston.
Initially, the tournament featured just two competitors - the United States and Great Britain. Just prior to World War I, Canada joined the competition along with France, Belgium, Austria, Germany and Australia. The number of competing nations has grown dramatically in the past century, and in 2002, 142 nations opened play at the beginning of the year in Davis Cup preliminary competitions.
The tournament features the best players from the professional tournament circuit playing for their respective countries. It is staged over the course of a full year, with 16 countries in the elite World Group playing off in three preliminary rounds - one in late winter, one in the spring and one in the early fall. These three rounds determine a final year-end pairing to decide the year's Davis Cup champion. Countries not included in the World Group play off in a series of three zone competitions - Euro-African zone, American zone and Asia/Oceania zone - for the right to join the world group. Eight survivors from the zone competition play off in the fall against the eight first-round losers from the World Group for the right to join (or re-join) the world group. The format for a Davis Cup matchup features two countries playing in head-to-head competition for the right to advance in the tournament. The matchup, also known in tennis circles as a "tie," consists of four singles matches and one doubles match. The first country to win three of the matches moves to the next round. A unique aspect of the Davis Cup is that the country chosen to host the tie has the right to choose the surface on which the matches are played. South American countries, whose players play consistently on slow, clay surfaces, rarely stray from that surface, especially when hosting countries where clay is seldom used. Conversely, South American teams travelling away from home often find themselves playing on blazing fast hard-court surfaces, where they are at a disadvantage.
Due to the patriotic flavour of the Davis Cup, the event has become increasingly popular for tennis fans and promoters. Fan involvement is much more significant than on the professional tournament circuit. Until 1981, prize money was not awarded for Davis Cup competition. Today, sponsorship provides US$8.5 million in prize money. Yet, for most of the players the prestige of representing one's country in an international competition as opposed to the one-on-one competition on the professional circuit often overrides the lure of prizes.
For much of the cup's history the US dominated competition, winning a total of 31 since the cup's inception in 1900. In recent years, the Davis Cup has been dominated by European and Australian teams: the last North American team to win the Cup was the US in 1995. Italy has produced the most prodigious Davis Cup winner in the event's history, Nicola Pietrangeli. Pietrangeli posted a record of 120-44 while representing Italy on 66 occasions.-
Canada has never won the Davis Cup. In fact, Canada made it to the World Group only in 1992, when it lost to Sweden in the round of 16 despite holding a 2-0 lead in the tie. Yet Canada has made it to many World Group qualifying ties, including 2002, when it was up against the heavily favoured Brazil to reach the World Group. The most successful Davis Cup players have been Sébastien LAREAU and Daniel NESTOR, each playing 47 and 40 Davis Cup matches respectively.