The Federation Cup, better known as the Fed Cup since 1995, is the women’s equivalent of the men’s Davis Cup Tennis Tournament. It is conducted once a year over the course of several months, as Group rounds determine the final 16 teams that will vie for the annual championship.
For many years, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) believed there was insufficient interest to warrant such an event for women only. The idea of a women’s team competition was first proposed in 1919 by Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, but it was not until 1963, on the occasion of the ITF’s 50th anniversary, that the world’s top-ranked female players met on the courts to represent their respective countries.
Over the nearly half century that has followed, the United States has dominated the competition, winning not only the inaugural contest at the Queen’s Club in London but also another 16 thereafter. The American squad’s nearest rival has been Australia with seven victories, followed by Spain and the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia) with five apiece, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) with four and Italy with three.
France and Germany (formerly West Germany) each have two triumphs, while South Africa, Belgium and Slovakia trail with one win apiece. Among the teams to finish as runners-up but yet to claim the Fed Cup trophy are the Netherlands, Switzerland and Great Britain.
Although the competition was launched without formal sponsorship, eventually the Colgate Group came on board in 1976 as the primary backer, followed in the 1980s by NEC, the Japanese communications company. At present, the main sponsor is BNP Paribas.
The number of entrants to the annual tournament has grown by leaps and bounds, from just 16 in its first year to 73 by 1994 and then 82 nations in 2007. This remarkable growth has caused several changes to be implemented in the Fed Cup format and structure.
Regional qualifying competitions were introduced in 1992 to whittle the field down to the top 16 teams. Since 2005, the final sweet-16 contest has shaped up as an eight-nation World Group I and an eight-nation World Group II, playing both home-and-away over three weekends throughout the year. Zonal competitions are conducted in a round-robin format to fill the World Group brackets.
Each match-up between nations is known as a “tie,” which is hosted by one of the competing countries. Four women play on each team. The ties are contested in a best-of-five rubbers format, played over a single weekend. They consist of two singles matches on Saturday, and then two reverse singles and one doubles match on Sunday.
As with most international sporting events, betting on the Fed Cup is offered by bookmakers both online and off. Wagering is heaviest on the results of the ties between nations, although ante post betting on the outright winner of the Fed Cup is available and match betting is also quite popular. The latter involves picking the winner out of two players in a heads-on meeting. Set betting, handicap set betting and final score betting are possible, too, especially thanks to in-running or live betting now offered by leading sportsbooks.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in following the Fed Cup competition is keeping abreast of which players are actually participating on behalf of their countries. Some of the top-ranked players are so caught up in Gland Slam events that they choose to sit out this event. That creates an opening for less well known players to make names for themselves, just as it gives savvy handicappers the opportunity to profit by knowing who the up and coming stars of women’s tennis are.