A journey into the history of the World Cup of Tennis
A JOURNEY INTO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD CUP OF TENNIS
The Davis Cup was born in 1900, when a young dreamer named Dwight Davis envisioned a tennis competition between teams representing their nations.
One year ago in Madrid, the Davis Cup proved that this dream has not only survived the test of time, but adapted to it.
On a trip to California in 1899, Harvard tennis players Dwight Davis, Beals Wright, George Wright, Holcombe Ward and Malcolm Whitman dreamed up the idea of an international tennis competition.
Dwight Davis designed a tournament format and ordered a trophy, buying it with his own money.
Said and done. In 1900, from 8–10 August, three Americans and three British players – who had travelled from the other side of the Atlantic – faced each other at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston on a grass court, fighting for a silver trophy. The United States won 3-0 with Davis himself as captain and player.
In 1902, more than 10,000 spectators turned out to watch Great Britain’s Doherty brothers take on Dwight Davis and Holcombe Ward at Bay Ridge in Brooklyn.
In 1905, the Davis Cup expanded to include France, Austria, Belgium and Australasia (combining players from Australia and New Zealand). New Zealander Tony Wilding was a driving force in the evolution of elite tennis. He won the Davis Cup in 1914 before dying the following year on the First World War battlefields.
Because of the conflict the competition was suspended for four years.
It resumed in 1919, and soon 20 nations were competing.
Known as the Four Musketeers, France’s Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste dominated the Davis Cup, winning six consecutive titles between 1927 and 1932.But new challengers were emerging, including Fred Perry of Great Britain and Australia’s Jack Crawford.
The Second World War again forced the cancellation of the competition, this time for six years. On its return in 1946, a new era began, dominated by the United States and Australia, who alternated as champions for 28 years until 1973.
The SecondWorld War
Some players were especially dominant during this period. Between 1959 and 1967, Roy Emerson, from a dairy farm in Queensland, featured in Australia’s winning Davis Cup team a record eight times. This was a golden era for Australia with the nation lifting the trophy 15 times between 1950 and 1967 assisted by greats including Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver and John Newcombe.
One of the most dominant players of the 1960s, Spain’s Manolo Santana first competed in the Davis Cup in 1958. In 1965, he captained the team for the first time, where they recorded a huge victory over the USA in Barcelona in the semi-final before losing 4-1 to Australia in the final in Sydney.
Over the course of its history the Davis Cup has undergone several different changes. The most significant, without doubt, was in 1972 when the Challenge Round format – where the champion qualified directly for the final the following year to defend the title – was abolished. By that time there were already more than 50 countries fighting for the trophy every year.
Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli remains the leading all-time Davis Cup player with a 78-32 singles record. His 42-win doubles record was only surpassed in 2018 by India’s Leander Paes. Along with Orlando Sirola, Pietrangeli created the most successful doubles partnership in Davis Cup history, with 34 wins from 42 matches. In 1976, he captained Italy to their first, and to date only, Davis Cup title.
Ilie Năstase, the colourful Romanian, made 52 appearances in the Davis Cup between 1966 and 1985, taking the country to the final on three occasions. He never failed to entertain, amusing the crowds with his antics. But he also let his tennis do the talking, demonstrated by his 74-22 win-loss record in Davis Cup singles and 35-15 record in doubles.
Between 1978 and 1982, the USA won four out of five Davis Cup titles with a team packed with greats including Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith and John McEnroe.
In 1981, another important change marked a new era for the competition: the creation of the World Group, which brought together just the top 16 national teams, creating a system based on different divisions that made the competition simpler and fairer. Matches were held on a home-and-away basis.
In the 1980s, Germany and Sweden came to the fore with players who marked a whole era for their respective countries and even world tennis, such as Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Michael Stich.
The teams met each other in the final three times in just five years. First, Sweden beat Germany on home soil, with the Germans then taking revenge with back-to-back wins three years later.
Thirty-three years after their last Davis Cup final appearance, Spain finally lifted the trophy in 2000, led by Juan Carlos Ferrero. Since that initial victory, Spain has won the title a further five times, most recently in 2011 – with Rafael Nadal securing victory with a win over Argentina’s Juan Martín del Potro - and then in 2019 in the Davis Cup Finals.
France, Australia, Russia, Croatia or the United States, together with Spain, all lifted the trophy in the first years of the 21st century.
The United States has won the most Davis Cup titles with a total of 32, the latest coming in 2007 with a dream team led by Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers.
In 2010, in front of a home crowd, Serbia took the title for the first, and to date only, time, defeating France in Belgrade. Following Croatia’s win in 2005, Serbia became only the second unseeded nation to win the Davis Cup, with a team starring the great Novak Djokovic.
In 2013, the Czech Republic won the Davis Cup for the second consecutive year with victory over 2010 champions Serbia. In a hard-fought tie, Czech stalwarts Tomáš Berdych and Radek Štěpánek claimed decisive victories to take the Czech Republic to only its third Davis Cup title.
In 2014 Roger Federer, together with Stan Wawrinka, won the first Davis Cup for Switzerland and with it one of the few titles missing from his trophy cabinet. By that time he had already won 17 Grand Slams, more than 80 professional titles and had been finishing the season as world No.1 or 2 for 10 years.
Following their run of four titles between 1933–36, Great Britain had to wait another 79 years, until 2015, to lift the trophy once more. Captained by Leon Smith, it was Andy Murray who sealed victory over Belgium in a memorable final in Ghent, beating David Goffin to take Great Britain into an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Following disappointment in four previous attempts, Argentina came from behind to snatch victory from Croatia in a thrilling final in 2016. Juan Martín del Potro’s close-fought win against Marin Čilić set up a decider between Ivo Karlovic and Federico Delbonis, which Delbonis won to seal a sweet first victory for Argentina.
France dominated the Davis Cup between 1927 and 1932 thanks to the Four Musketeers. But in 2017, with just three victories since those golden years, they were looking for their first title since 2001. Captained by Yannick Noah in his third spell leading the French team, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Richard Gasquet battled to a 3-2 victory over Belgium in Lille.
In 2018 - and back in the final in Lille for a second straight year – France were looking to replicate their victory of 2017 but came up against a dominant Croatian team. Marin Čilić ensured that the title returned to Croatia for the first time since 2005; victory over Lucas Pouille was enough to win the tie 3-1 and made up for Croatia’s heartbreaking defeat to Argentina in 2016.
Additionally, at its 2018 Annual General Meeting the International Tennis Federation approved a change to the competition. The new format created the Davis Cup Finals and brought together the 18 best teams in the same week, turning the Davis Cup into a real tennis world championship that followed the same pattern as other global sports. This made it easier to reach all types of audiences, to involve the best players, and maintained the essence of providing tennis with a real challenge for national teams.
In 2019, Madrid hosted the first edition of the new-format Davis Cup Finals and Spain were crowned champion for the sixth time. This time they met Canada, who made the final of the competition for the first time in history.