Davis Cup began in 1900 as a competition between USA and Great Britain. It’s now the world’s largest annual international team competition in sport, with 126 nations taking part in 2015.
The first Davis Cup took place in 1900 and saw USA take on Great Britain, then playing under the name of the British Isles. It was held at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston and the Americans surprised their opponents by racing into an unassailable 3-0 lead.
The idea of Davis Cup was conceived a year earlier by four members of the Harvard University tennis team, who wished to set up a match between USA and Great Britain. Once the two respective national associations had agreed, one of the four players, Dwight Davis, designed a tournament format and ordered a trophy, buying it with his own money.
The tournament was originally known as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, but soon became known as Davis Cup after Dwight Davis’s trophy, which was designed by William Durgin and crafted by Rowland Rhodes.
In 1905, Davis Cup expanded to include France, Austria, Belgium and Australasia, a combined team of players from Australia and New Zealand. Then by the 1920s, there were over 20 nations regularly playing in the competition.
The early years were dominated by USA, Great Britain and Australasia, but that period was ended in 1927 by France. Led by the famous Four Musketeers – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste – France embarked on a glorious run of wins that lasted six years.
USA, Great Britain and Australia took control again from the 1930s and it wasn’t until the 1970s that any other nation triumphed. During this time, Australians Harry Hopman and Roy Emerson both entered the Davis Cup history books for winning more titles as captain and player respectively – Hopman won 16 and Emerson won eight.
In 1969, a year after the start of the Open Era in tennis, 50 nations competed in Davis Cup for the first time. Then in 1972, the competition underwent a major change of format as the Challenge Round was abolished, resulting in the reigning champion having to play in every round, rather than gaining a bye directly into the Final.
In the same year, Nicola Pietrangeli played his last tie for Italy. He enjoyed a distinguished career and still holds many Davis Cup player records, including most rubbers played, 164, and most rubbers won, 120.
In 1974, South Africa became the fifth nation to lift the trophy and was quickly followed by Sweden, Italy and Czechoslovakia, as the competition grew in popularity around the world.
World Group begins
In 1981, the current Davis Cup format was introduced and a 16-nation World Group created to compete for glory each year. The remaining nations were split into regional Zone Groups with promotion and relegation up for grabs.
This year also marked the start of a commercial partnership with NEC, the competition’s first Title Sponsor, which allowed for prize money to be given.
The 1980s saw a new era of Swedish players win three titles and Germany also began an impressive six-year spell that saw it triumph on three occasions. In 1993, Davis Cup welcomed 100 nations for the first time and then six years later the competition celebrated its centenary.
Davis Cup today
In 2000, Spain won its first Davis Cup title before going on to claim four more victories and establish itself as the competition’s dominant force of recent times. During the last decade, Russia, Croatia, and Serbia also lifted the trophy for the first time, with the latter two being the only unseeded nations to win the title.
The competition celebrated its 100th Final in 2012, which also marked the start of the ITF's Centenary Year. Czech Republic overcame Spain 3-2 in a dramatic contest that went down to the wire at the O2 Arena in Prague. The final also saw the launch of the Davis Cup Commitment Award to recognise long-standing dedication.
BNP Paribas took over NEC as the competition’s Title Sponsor in 2002, a partnership that still flourishes today. The commercial programme continued to grow and now a family of sponsors support Davis Cup.
The introduction of the official Davis Cup website – DavisCup.com – also brought a new generation of fans to the competition, with live scoring, detailed match reports and photos showcasing the action from around the world.
The website has since expanded and currently offers additional features, such as live streaming, radio commentary, videos, audio interviews and social networking. To reach a wider audience, the site also launched in Spanish in November 2008.
The list of tennis legends to have competed in Davis Cup over the years includes all of the game’s most well known names, with the competition providing a unique team environment in an otherwise individual sport.
Players such as Fred Perry, Don Budge, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras all enjoyed successful Davis Cup careers.
More recently, Goran Ivanisevic, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have also represented their country with passion and commitment, as Davis Cup continues to attract the game’s star players.