On the surface, the Davis Cup looks a bit convoluted and tough to understand. The tournament is organized into five different groups - the World Group and Groups I-IV - and all five of those groups have sub-groupings. For the casual fan, only the World Group really matters, so it's probably best to keep the schedule and format explanation brief when it comes to the other parts of the competition.
The big competition, the one that tennis fans and announcers refer to as the "Davis Cup Semifinals", takes place in the World Group this weekend. The World Group is the part of the competition that determines the Davis Cup champion. 16 teams contest the World Group in a single elimination format. The eight teams that win in the Round of 16 automatically qualify for the next season's World Group, while the eight losers have to play eight teams that advance from Group I - a second division, of sorts - for the right to play in the World Group the following season.
Similar competitions take place down the line; Group IV teams play to get into Group III, Group III teams play to get into Group II, and so on. Not every team has the chance to play for a Davis Cup title every year, but a small country without any high-level professional tennis players could conceivably play themselves from the bottom tier to the World Group in four years.
That's how a team gets from the bottom to the top of the international tennis world, and vice-versa. Now, for the teams that are already at the top.
From Friday-Sunday, four teams will contest the Davis Cup Semifinals, with two teams advancing to the finals in December. Serbia, lead by Novak Djokovic, will take on Argentina in Belgrade on in indoor hard court. In the other semifinal, a Rafael Nadal lead Spain team will host France in Cordoba on clay. Here are the expected matchups.
Serbia vs. Argentina
Round 1: Novak Djokovic vs. David Nalbandian
Round 2: Janko Tipsarevic vs. Juan Martin del Potro
Round 3 (doubles): Janko Tipsarevic/Nenad Zimonjic vs. Juan Ignacio Chela/Juan Monaco
Round 4: Novak Djokovic vs. Juan Martin del Potro
Round 5: Janko Tipsarevic vs. David Nalbandian
Spain vs. France
Round 1: Rafael Nadal vs. Richard Gasquet
Round 2: David Ferrer vs. Gilles Simon
Round 3 (doubles): Feliciano Lopez/Fernando Verdasco vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/Michael Llodra
Round 4: Rafael Nadal vs. Gilles Simon
Round 5: David Ferrer vs. Richard Gasquet