The Davis Cup began in 1900 as a competition between the USA and Great Britain. Incredibly it is now the world’s largest annual international team competition with 132 nations involved.
The first ever Davis Cup took place in the USA in the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston between the USA and the British Isles as they were known at the time. The idea had actually been conceived a year earlier by four members of the Harvard’s University tennis team. It was in fact on of them, Dwight Davis, who came up with the format for the competition and even bought a trophy with his own money. The trophy cost him $750.
In 1905 the Davis Cup included France, Austria, Belgium and Australasia so that by the 1920’s over 20 nations were in the competition. Whilst in the early years of the competition the USA and Great Britain dominated France soon emerged as a major player with players like Rene Lacoste.
By 1969 there were 50 nations competing and in 1972 a major rule change meant that the reigning champions didn’t automatically get a bye into the final. In 1981 the current Davis Cup format was introduced and a 16 nation World Group was created with remaining nations split into regional Zone Groups. In 1993 100 nations were involved in the Davis Cup.
To date the USA sits at the top with 32 victories, Australia second with 28, Great Britain third with 10 alongside France also on ten.
The Davis Cup is structured with 16 nations in the World Group which is contested over 4 weekends during the year. The remaining countries are divided into three regional zones. In the World Group the 8 nations who win their first round of ties progress on to the quarter finals and beyond, the eight who lose have to contest the World Group play offs. These play offs decide who remains in the World Group and who goes to the Zone.
The Zone groups consist of three regions-Americas, Asia/Oceania and Europe/Africa. Within each Zone there are then divisions.
In the World Group and Zone groups 1 and 11, ties are fought on a best of five rubbers and are played over a three day weekend. There are two singles on a Friday, doubles on Saturday and then singles on a Sunday.The ties are hosted by one of the nation’s competing.
In Zone groups 111 and 1V ties are contested in a best of three rubbers and are played on one day. There are two singles, followed by doubles. Ties take place on successive days.
With so many huge tennis tournaments around the world all offering big prize money it is often asked, what’s the point of the Davis Cup ? Many players answer this by saying that it is often one of the only chances they get to play in a team. Tennis is a very solitary sport so this is a real difference.
Another reason is that doubles are hugely important and can turn a tie around, whereas in big slams they are often not seen as that important. It is in the Davis Cup that unknown players can get a chance to take the stage and you only have to see what happened to Cameron Norrie to see how the Davis Cup allows this to happen. Then there is also the coaching which in the Davis Cup is very visible as coaches are allowed to talk to the player’s court side. They sit on what looks like a little sofa at the edge of the court. Then finally there is the patriotism, the cheering crowds and the chance for big players not just to represent themselves but also represent their country which, aside from the Olympics, is not something they often have the chance to do.
The Award of Excellence was launched in 2001 and is presented to a Davis Cup player who best represents the ideals of the competition. Past winners include Yannick Noah of France in 2017, Ivan Lendl in 2012, Stan Smith USA in 2007 and the first ever recipient of the award was Neale Fraser of Australia in 2001.