Leylah Fernandez, of Canada, returns a shot to Sofia Kenin, of the United States, during the second round of the US Open tennis championships.Photo: AP/Seth Wenig
Photo: AP/Seth Wenig

FAQ: What are the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup?

Tennis is often thought of as an individual sport, but there are times when players come together to represent their country as a team.

The Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup are annual highlights on the calendar so here’s what you need to know about them and their relevance to Olympic qualification.

What are the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup tournaments?

Davis Cup is the largest annual international team competition in sport. There were 142 nations entered in 2020. Similarly, the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly known as Fed Cup) is the world’s largest annual international women’s team tournament, with 116 nations entered in 2020.

Davis Cup was created when members of the 1900 Harvard University tennis team wanted to arrange a match between USA and Great Britain. One of the American players, Dwight Davis, designed the tournament format and purchased the tournament’s trophy with his own money. His name would become synonymous with the tournament.

The idea of the Fed Cup was brought up in 1919 but did not become a reality until 1963 when it was launched as a way to celebrate the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) 50th anniversary. Back then it was the Federation Cup before the name was shortened in 1995.

In September 2020, the Fed Cup was renamed after tennis legend, Billie Jean King, who has been a proponent for equality in the sport throughout her career. The tournament bearing her name has the biggest annual prize fund in women’s team sports, matching that awarded in Davis Cup.

What are the formats for Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup?

Davis Cup took on a new format in 2019. Over the course of a week in November, the top 18 teams in the world compete in the Davis Cup Finals. This includes the four semifinalists from the previous year, 12 teams who advanced from head-to-head Qualifier matchups (known as “ties”) in March, as well as two wild card countries.

During the March Qualifiers, each tie consists of four singles matches and one doubles match (the term “rubbers” is used for matches played within a tie). A team has to win three rubbers to win the tie. These rubbers are all best-of-three sets. A team can consist of up to five players, though there is no obligation for all team members to compete in a rubber. A player can compete in a maximum of two singles matches.

For the Finals in November, the 18 teams are drawn into six groups of three for a round robin. The six teams that win their group as well as two of the second-place teams advance to the quarterfinals. The winners there move onto the semifinals with those victors facing off for the trophy. Each tie held during the Finals week consists of two singles matches and one doubles match, which are again best-of-three sets.

The four semi-finalists automatically qualify for the next year’s Finals. The teams that finish the Finals ranked 5-18 will be placed into the March Qualifiers to face off against teams which earned promotion from World Group I.

Still confused? You can find more information here or watch this video to learn more about the Davis Cup format:

Billie Jean King Cup will feature a new tournament format that is somewhat similar to the new-look Davis Cup. Dubbed the “World Cup of Tennis”, the six-day Billie Jean King Cup Finals (taking place at a date to be determined in 2021) will have 12 teams competing for the title: the two finalists from the previous year, the host nation, eight teams which won their best-of-five match ties at Qualifiers held in February 2020, and one wildcard team. The 12 teams will be divided into four groups of three for a round robin, with the top team in each group advancing to the semifinals.

You can watch the following video to learn more about the new Billie Jean King Cup format:

Who is on Canada’s Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup rosters?

For the Davis Cup Finals that took place November 18-24, 2019 in Madrid, Canada was represented by Vasek Pospisil, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, and Brayden Schnur, who was named as a replacement for an injured Milos Raonic. The team’s non-playing captain was Frank Dancevic. The team advanced out of the round robin with victories in the group stage over the United States and Italy. In the quarterfinals against Australia, Pospisil won his singles rubber and teamed up with Shapovalov to take the doubles rubber to advance Canada to the semifinal. This time, Shapovalov prevailed in his singles rubber, and the duo won the doubles.

Canada will be back in the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in 2021, taking place November 25-December 5.

Canada’s roster for the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier in early February 2020 included Bianca Andreescu, Eugenie Bouchard, Leylah Annie Fernandez, and Gabriela Dabrowski. Falling 3-1 to Switzerland, Canada will now be entered in the Playoffs, April 16-17, 2021, where they will face Serbia. The winner of the rubber will get back to the Qualifiers in 2022, while the loser will have to compete in their regional Group 1 event. Representing Canada in Serbia will be Fernandez, Rebecca Marino, Sharon Fichman and Carol Zhao.

In 2019, Canada had gotten into it the World Group Playoffs for the first time since 2015 on the strength of Andreescu’s two singles victories in a tie against the Netherlands. The team’s non-playing captain is Heidi El Tabakh.

When are the next Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup matchups?

Team Canada’s run to the final in 2019 automatically booked them a spot in the next Davis Cup Finals, now set to take place starting November 25, 2021 in Madrid, Spain.

Team Canada will be in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers in April 2021, when they will travel to face Serbia.

Has Canada ever won a Davis Cup or Billie Jean King Cup title?

Team Canada’s best finish in Davis Cup was in 2019, when they were the runners-up to Spain.  They are currently ranked sixth in the world.

Team Canada’s best finish in Fed Cup was in 1988 where they reached the semifinals. They are currently ranked 16th in the world.

Genie Bouchard, Gaby Dabrowski and Bianca Andreescu celebrate after defeating Ukraine

Genie Bouchard, Gaby Dabrowski and Bianca Andreescu celebrate after defeating Ukraine in the Fed Cup tennis tournament in Montreal, Sunday, April 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

What role do Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup play in the Olympic qualification process?

To be eligible to compete at Tokyo 2020, players have to be part of a nominated team for three Davis Cup or Billie Jean King Cup competitions between the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, with at least one of those nominations in 2019 or 2020. There is some flexibility in these requirements for athletes with lengthy career commitment to Davis Cup or Billie Jean King Cup competitions or who have missed significant playing time due to injury or are new to team selection because of a recent rise in their ranking.

How will Canadian tennis players qualify for Tokyo 2020?

Francoise Abanda celebrates

Francoise Abanda celebrates as she beats Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in Fed Cup on April 18, 2015.

Olympic qualification will be largely based on the ATP and WTA ranking lists on June 7, 2021. This includes 56 spots in each of the men’s and women’s singles draws and 31 spots in the men’s and women’s doubles draws. A country can have no more than four entries per singles event and two entries per doubles event.