The Davis Cup is one of the largest international sporting events today, with 130 participating countries last year. But when it started in 1900, it was only meant to be a contest between tennis players from USA and Great Britain, which was then known as the British Isles.
Four American tennis players who belonged to the Harvard University team wanted to play against the British players, and so they made the necessary arrangements. One of the Harvard players, Dwight Davis, commissioned William Durgin to design a winner’s trophy and Rowland Rhodes to create it.
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Davis even paid for the trophy using his own money. It is for this reason that the tournament, which was initially called the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, eventually became known as the Davis Cup. The Americans hosted the very first of these annual tournaments in Boston, where they had a formidable 3-0 win.
Five years later, players from France, Belgium, Austria and Australasia participated in the tournament and after ten more years, more than 20 countries were taking part in the event. During the first couple of decades, the Davis Cup was brought home either by the USA, Great Britain or Australasia, but that all changed in 1927 when France began a 6-year winning streak, courtesy of the so-called Four Musketeers made up of Henri Cochet, Rene Lacoste, Jacques Brugnon, and Jean Borotra.
After the streak ended, however, USA, Great Britain and Australasia once again took the reins and alternately took the cup home for the next 40 years or so. In this period, Roy Emerson and Harry Hopman set respective records by winning the most titles as player and captain.
When the Open Era began in the world of tennis in 1969, an unprecedented 50 countries participated in the Davis Cup. Shortly thereafter, the Challenge Round was removed, and so the reigning champion was required to play all rounds rather than getting a direct ticket to the Final.
This was the same year that Nicola Pietrangeli retired from the Davis Cup, after setting several records in the sport, such as most rubbers played (164) and won (120). Finally, in 1974, the dominance of the three countries ended when South African took home the trophy, after which Sweden, Italy and Czechoslovakia also had a turn winning the tournament.
The Davis Cup as we know it today was introduced in 1981. It was also during this time that a 16-nation World Group was formed and a commercial partnership with NEC commenced, which meant that the winners now have prize money to take home in addition to the trophy and the prestige of the title.
The tournament continued to grow in popularity among other participating countries. Shortly before the Davis Cup celebrated its centenary, there were already 100 nations regularly joining in the tournament.
In recent developments, Spain is considered a top contender after having won 4 titles since 2000. Croatia has set a record for being the only unseeded contender to win the title, while Serbia and Russia also won the title for the first time in the last decade.