Since the inaugural competition in 1900, only 13 nations have been crowned Davis Cup champions. It is a tournament that embodies the essence of tennis – pride, passion and glory. Many of the game’s greatest players have achieved Grand Slam success but have failed – sometimes repeatedly – to capture the Davis Cup for their country, a testament to its difficulty and value to the sport.
Some of Tennis’ all-time greats acknowledge their Davis Cup victories as one of their paramount professional achievements. Legends such as John McEnroe, who won the Davis Cup five times for the USA, and current stars such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Lleyton Hewitt all played some of their most inspired tennis during the World Group Final, and avid tennis fans are not likely to soon forget their performances.
For over a century now, the Davis Cup has featured an abundance of exhilarating finals packed with memorable action and dramatic story lines. Below are five of the greatest finals that transcend generations.
It is arguably the most electrifying of all Davis Cup finals: a gripping battle of attrition that ultimately saw Spanish great Rafael Nadal lift the Davis Cup for his country. While the tournament has always embodied the concepts of teamwork and patriotism, the 2011 final will be remembered for the sensational clash between Nadal and the resurgent Juan Martin del Potro.
A wrist injury in 2010 had sidelined Del Potro for nine months and sent him down to a low of no. 485 in the world rankings. Less than six months prior to his injury, Del Potro had produced one of the biggest upsets in US Open history as he vanquished Roger Federer and won his first (and only) Grand Slam title. Prior to the Davis Cup tie, the Argentinian had completed the rehabilitation process, recovered successfully and worked his way back up to no. 11 with several impressive performances on the tour. Nevertheless, it was his match with Nadal that left a lasting impression on fans worldwide.
Del Potro stunned Nadal in the opening set with powerful forehand winners, which forced the Spaniard to change his tactics for the remainder of the match. It also produced an uncomfortable silence in the crowd at the Spanish Olympic Stadium. Following a tight second set that went in Rafael’s favour, Del Potro grew weary and managed to hold serve just once in the third set. The momentum appeared entirely in the Spanish team’s favour.
The fourth set is the one we remember, and will continue to remember. Del Potro brought forth a Herculean effort to win back his break deficit, and was able to force a tiebreak with the then-ten-time Grand Slam winner. While Nadal dominated the deciding tiebreak, it was Del Potro’s extraordinary performance throughout the match, particularly the fourth set, that made the Spanish win momentous. While Del Potro did not win the match, he left no doubt in peoples’ minds what to expect of him in the future.
2. Czech Republic Upset Spain to Secure Davis Cup Glory in 2012
This was as much a historical win as it was an emotional one. In arguably one of the biggest upsets in Davis Cup history, Czech Republic defeated the dominant Spain to win their second Davis Cup final – their first as the sovereign Czech Republic.
Considering Spain’s head-to-head advantage over the Czech team as well as their dominance over the past few years, it was expected that they would likely secure a sixth Davis Cup win that year. Even the absence of Rafael Nadal was not expected to hinder their performance. Little did they know that the Czech team would produce one of their most inspired performances in the history of the tournament.
The first round of the final saw Radek Stepanek lose in straight sets to David Ferrer. The Czech team would rebound in the following two rounds, as Berdych would secure a hard-fought five set win over Nicolas Almagro and follow that up with a doubles win with partner Stepanek. Berdych would fall in the fourth round to David Ferrer, setting up a deciding rubber match between the two nations.
The final could arguably be described as the greatest moment of Stepanek’s career as he would emphatically defeat Almagro in four sets to make history in Prague. It is undoubtedly one of the most enchanting moments in Davis Cup history.
3. John McEnroe’s Davis Cup Swan Song
In 1992, John McEnroe was a shade of his former self. After his remarkable achievements in the 80s that included seven Grand Slam titles and 77 ATP tour titles, McEnroe was clearly nearing the end of his storied career.
Come December 5th, 1992, the American Davis Cup team, consisting of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe, secured a 3-1 tie against Switzerland to win the Davis Cup.
McEnroe and doubles partner Sampras defeated Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset 6-7 (5), 6-7 (7), 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to give USA a 2-1 lead in the tie. The match was not without its typical McEnroe tantrums, as the American duo had to rally from a first set loss to defeat the Swiss team. It was also McEnroe’s final Davis Cup match and the end of a legendary career.
Courier’s fourth round win over Hlasek was followed by a heart-warming celebration that featured McEnroe circling the court with an enormous American flag.
It was a celebration like none other in French tennis history. Guy Forget upset soon-to-be legend Pete Sampras in four sets to secure the Davis Cup for France for the first time in 59 years. It was their first Davis Cup win since the days of the ‘Four Musketeers’, marking it a significant day in French sporting history.
After losing the opening match in the final, the two-man Davis Cup team, made up of Guy Forget and Henri Leconte and led by captain Yannick Noah, would each pick up an individual victory over Sampras as well as a doubles win over Ken Flach and Robert Seguso to clinch the tie 3-1 and send the Lyon crowd into a screaming frenzy.
5. Fred Perry Ends “Four Musketeers’ Davis Cup Streak in 1933
Prior to Andy Murray’s monumental achievement at Wimbledon this year, Fred Perry was known as THE great male British champion. Apart from his remarkable success in Grand Slam tournaments, he was also played a significant role in the British Davis Cup success in the 1930s.
At the time, French national icons Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jacques Brugnon and Jean Borotra dominated tennis. Together, the ‘Four Musketeers’ won 20 Grand Slam titles and led France to six consecutive Davis Cup wins until Fred Perry finally ended their remarkable reign in 1933.
Perry defeated Cochet 8-10, 6-4, 8-6, 3-6, 6-1 in the second match of Final and later beat Andre Merlin in the deciding rubber 4-6, 8-6, 6-2, 7-5 to clinch Great Britain’s sixth Davis Cup win. What was even more extraordinary about the win was that it occurred on the French Stade de Roland Garroes, where the Frenchmen were most dominant.
Perry would go on to win 8 Grand Slam titles including three Wimbledon titles and three US Open titles.