Some tennis fans may be surprised to know that Davis Cup was considered more prestigious than Wimbledon. Times have changed but it is still one of the longest running sporting competitions in the world.
Nations play against each other in elimination rounds called “ties” with the individual singles and doubles matches known as “rubbers”. If a team plays at home or away is determined on past ties between the two teams.
Started in 1900 as a contest between the U.S. and Great Britain, it was originally conceived by several members of the Harvard University tennis team including Dwight Davis who came up with the event’s format and also paid for the tournament’s trophy, hence why the event is named after him.
The early years saw the U.S., Great Britain, France, Austria, Belgium and a team of players from Australia and New Zealand compete for the title. The event was viewed with the same importance as Wimbledon and the US National Championships that later became known as the US Open with players sometimes skipping the two Majors just so that they could in peak condition to play for their country.
By the 1960’s over 50 nations were competing each year. The event’s format underwent several changes once in 1971 when the defending champion from the previous year was required to play in every round and then in 1981 when the current 16-nation World Group format was introduced along with the Zone Groups that offered promotion and regulation rounds.
The 1980’s and 1990’s saw the U.S., Czechoslovakia, Germany, Sweden, France and Australia dominate but in 2000 Spain earned it’s first ever title marking that country’s reign over the event with five titles. The U.S. returned to the winner’s circle in 2007 while Serbia celebrated it’s maiden title in 2010.
In recent years, the event has seen its popularity expand while also earning criticism that it still continues to be a yearly event that forces many players to compete in away ties in what is an already crowded season of tournaments. In 2010, several top players floated the idea of having a condensed event held over two weeks instead of the current format but the idea could not sustain momentum. Being available for Davis Cup participation has also become a requirement by the ITF for a player to be eligible to compete in the Olympic Games and other international events.
The U.S. has won 32 Davis Cup titles, the most in the event’s history followed by Australia with 28 and France and Great Britain tied at nine apiece. Argentina, who is currently in the semifinals this year, has never won the event having reached the final round four times including last year.