The Evolution of the Davis Cup Tournament

· 5th April 2019
The Davis Cup is going through a period of uncertainty due to its change in format. However, its history shows that it has had a few opportunities to adapt to the evolution of tennis.

As you may already know the Davis Cup is not a normal tennis tournament due to its peculiar format. Different from other international tournaments, in this one there are national teams. These teams consist of a group of professional tennis players that the national federation chooses to represent the country, and so this is not an individual competition.

The name of the tournament comes from its creator, Dwight Filley Davis. He created the Davis Cup after winning the national USA championship three times in a row in the doubles category.

His original idea was to create a tournament where a group of tennis players from the United States played against players from the United Kingdom. Davis designed the format himself and, out of his own pocket, bought the cup that the winner would receive.

The evolution of the Davis Cup

The first Davis Cup took place in 1900 in Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. The outcome of this tournament was 3-0 in favor of the players from the United States.

A game serve from the Davis Cup

In 1905, the Davis Cup included other countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, and Australasia. Then, a decade later, the tournament comprised more than 20 teams from different countries who competed regularly.

And so, during the first few years, the clear leaders of the tournament were the U.S., the U.K., and Australasia. However, in 1927 France managed to win and secure the next six years of the Davis Cup.

Later, the United States recovered the lead, along with Great Britain and Australasia. Consequently, it wasn’t until the 1970s that another country managed to win the Davis Cup. In that time, the most outstanding players were the Australians, Hopman, and Emerson. These two players won 16 times as captains and eight times as players, respectively.

In 1969, there were teams from 50 countries participating in the tournament. However, three years later, the format changed in the Davis Cup. And so, this new change consisted of withdrawing the winning team from direct access to the following year’s final. Thus, the winner would have to play all of the rounds, just as the other teams did.

In the 1980s, the Swiss and German teams led the championship, winning six times in that decade. By 1993, the Davis Cup had 100 different countries competing, for the first time.

At the beginning of the new Millenium, the Spanish team managed to win the cup four times. In that decade, other teams also managed to win, such as Russia and Croatia.

The Spanish team that won the Davis Cup

The game format and sponsors

The current format for the Davis Cup originated in 1981. Under this new format, the world national group consisted of 16 nations and the rest were divided into Regional Zonal Groups who ascended and descended in their category. This year NEC started sponsoring the title, and this allowed the tournament to give the winner a cash prize as well.

The tournament now consists of playing five games for each round, the first and second as individual players. Then the third game in doubles, to later have the fourth and fifth again as individual players, changing the players. The team that wins three games and all games are given to the player who wins three sets.

In 2002 the sponsor, NEC, changed to BNP Paribas, a society that is still the official sponsor for the Davis Cup.

The prize for the competition

And so, the tournament prize has also evolved in the history of the Davis Cup. At first, the prize was the silver cup. The cup had “International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy” engraved inside and the names of the participants on the side. In 1945, when Davis died, the trophy became the Davis Cup.

Since there wasn’t enough space to engrave all of the participants in 1921, Davis donated a silver platter. Then, when this one had no space left, a wooden stand was made in 1933 to continue with the engraving. Later, in 1969, they added a new stand and the third one in 2002.

This competition has made great names in the sport such as Bjorn Borg and McEnroe. More recently, we can see the success of great players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.