In Depth

Davis Cup tennis explained

Milos Raonic prevailed over Italy's Andreas Seppi to clinch the first semifinal berth for Canada at the Davis Cup tennis event since the current format was established 32 years ago. What is the Davis Cup exactly? We bring you up to speed on this unusual event.

What's the event format, upcoming schedule?

Milos Raonic celebrates with his Canadian teammates after defeating Italy's Andreas Seppi in their Davis Cup quarter-final singles match Sunday. Canada will play in the semifinals in September for the first time in the modern era. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Sunday’s victory at the University of British Columbia wasn’t just another win for Canada’s top-ranked men’s tennis player.

Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., posted a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 triumph over Italy’s Andreas Seppi to clinch the first semifinal berth for the Canadians at the Davis Cup since the current format was established 32 years ago.

Not a bad feat considering only 16 of 130 countries qualify each year for the elite World Group that determines the champion.

The semifinals are scheduled for September, with Canada facing Serbia, which ousted the United States 3-2 in a best-of-five match in Boise, Idaho. The other semifinal features Argentina and defending champion Czech Republic.

For the casual tennis or sports fan, we explain the Davis Cup in further detail below with answers to five important questions.

1. What is the format of the Davis Cup?

The first Davis Cup was played in 1900 but the current format was introduced in 1981. This year, 130 teams entered the competition, with 16, including Canada, qualifying for the elite World Group that determines each year’s champion.

Those 16 teams have a chance to play four weekends during the year in the quarter-finals and later the semifinals and final. They also ensure their place in the following year’s World Group.

The other countries, including the eight first-round losers, compete in one of three regional zones in World Group playoffs: Americas, Asia/Oceania and Europe/Africa, earning points to improve their standing within the International Tennis Federation ranking system with promotion and relegation up for grabs.

This year’s finalists will be ranked 1-2 next year for the initial round of 16 within the World Group.

In the World Group and World Group playoffs, each elimination round, or tie, is contested in a best-of-five match format. Davis Cup play consists of five matches played over three days: two singles games on a Friday, a doubles match the next day and two singles matches Sunday. The first country to win three matches wins the tie.

2. When is the next round?

Canada, Serbia, Argentina and defending champion Czech Republic have advanced to the semifinals to be played Sept. 13-15 at an undetermined location.

For the Canada/Serbia semifinal, Serbia has until April 29 to select a host city and venue.

Choice of venue is determined by the previous history between the teams, with the previous host city being the visitor this time and vice-versa. A draw takes place if there is no prior playing history.

Should Canada defeat Serbia and advance to the final, the Canadians will host, no matter the result of the other semifinal, after winning a draw.

The finals will be held Nov. 15-17

3. What has been Canada’s path to the semifinals?

The Canadians defeated top-ranked Spain 3-2 in their first-round tie on Feb. 3 at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.

That victory vaulted Canada to the Davis Cup quarter-finals for the first time in its history.

On Sunday, Milos Raonic’s seventh consecutive Davis Cup win, a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 decision over Italy’s Andreas Seppi, clinched a semifinal berth for the Canadians.

Canada reached the semifinals in 1913 and fell to the United States, but hasn’t been this successful in the modern era.

On Friday, Raonic downed Fabio Fognini 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 to pull Canada even after Seppi defeated Vasek Pospisil in the opening match.

In doubles play, Canadians Daniel Nestor and Pospisil teamed for a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 15-13 win over Daniele Braccaili and Fognini.

4. Who are the key players in the semifinals?

The four participating countries will not announce their teams until 10 days before the event but the following is a list of probable competitors.

Canada: Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., is a no-brainer, barring injury. The 22-year-old is 12-4 in Davis Cup action, including a 10-3 record in singles and 2-1 in doubles. Ranked 16th in the world, Raonic reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the third time in his career earlier this year when he lost to Roger Federer at the Australian Open.

Vasek Pospisil, 22, boasts four years of Davis Cup experience. He was part of the Canadian squad that beat Spain in the first round in February. The Vernon, B.C., native fell to John Isner earlier this season in a hard-fought three-set, second-round match at an ATP event in San Jose.

Jesse Levine, 25, is making his Davis Cup debut this year. The Ottawa native served as a hitting partner for Canada in the first round. This season, he lost in the quarter-finals at the ATP World Tour event in Aukland, New Zealand and reached the second round at the Australian Open and San Jose.

Daniel Nestor, 40, holds the record for most wins by a Canadian at the event (44), most doubles victories (29), most ties played (43) and most years played (21). The Toronto resident defeated world No. 1 Stefan Edberg in his first Davis Cup event in 1992.

Serbia: Novak Djokovic, 25 (current world No. 1), and Viktor Troicki, 27 (singles ranking: 44th).

Argentina: Juan Monaco, 29 (singles ranking: 19th), Horacio Zeballos (singles ranking: 39th).

Czech Republic: Radek Stepanek, 34 (singles ranking: 45th), Lukas Rosol (singles ranking: 63rd).

5. Which nations have dominated the competition over the years?

In its 110-year history, 12 countries have won the Davis Cup, led by the United States (32) and Australia (28). Last year, the Czech Republic won its first title since 1980.