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Dwight Davis and the 
famous cup in 1924
(3) 
The very first years of the Davis Cup: 1900-1914

Version franšaise - French version
French translation
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Previous story : The early years of the Men's French Championship: 1891-1914

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The Davis cup
tobacco card
1928.

Davis cup at Forest Hills.
It was in 1900 that a 25 year old American student had the idea of pitching a national team against the British and, in particular, the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club. He bought a very large, very ugly but very prestigious silver cup for the princely sum of $1,000 and threw down the gauntlet for a team competition comprising five games of four men's singles and one doubles.

The generous donator was a certain Mr Dwight Davis who had won the US championships in 1899 having also been an unsuccessful finalist the year before. He was, much later, to become a famous statesman and ultimately Minister of War for his country, but it was the Davis Cup that was to immortalise his name.

Whilst more detailed rules were set down and agreed between the British and USA Lawn Tennis Associations, the fundamental principles for the competition were very straight forward: The winning team kept the trophy until such time that another national squad declared a wish to challenge for the title. If more than one team wished to mount a challenge they had to undertake between them a knock out round/rounds before meeting the title holders in a final "Challenge Round".The famous "America's Cup" for which the high ranking yacht clubs of the world make challenge remains subject to the very same principles to this day. The Davis Cup however, to a certain extent a victim of it's own success, abandoned these principles in 1973 in order to open the competition up to a much wider forum.

The principal events of the Davis Cup in it's early years may be summarised as follows:

  • 1900:The British Team is totally outplayed by the Americans. What is the very first competition is held in Boston with the Americans being led out by Dwight Davis himself, the benefactor of the event. The British complain bitterly that the playing conditions are deplorable but it is quite clear that they are outclassed on the day.
  • 1901 : The British make the decision not to challenge for the cup this year. It remains very expensive to take teams across the Atlantic. Dwight Davis does come to Europe however as a mark of respect to the "old country". He gets to the final of the doubles at Wimbledon, where he loses with Ward to the famous Doherty brothers.
  • 1902 : A British team including, amongst others, the Doherty brothers, makes the voyage to America to contest for the cup. This meeting is much more hotly contested although the Americans manage to hang on to the cup 3/2. The British Captain makes the remark that his error was in not playing Laurie Doherty in the men's singles. Laurence was the youngest of the two brothers and had only just won the Wimbledon men's title. The British visitors take advantage of their trip to compete in the US Championship and Reggie Doherty, the oldest of the two brothers, gets to the men's final. The two brothers take solace in going on to win the men's doubles title. This is the first time that a title was won by players from overseas at the US Championships.
  • 1903 : This time both of the Doherty brothers play in the men's singles and Britain takes the cup 4/1. Their only defeat is a concession by forfeit in the opening singles match! Laurie Doherty wins the Wimbledon title for the second year in a row. He goes onto win the US Championship singles title and, like the year before, the US doubles with his brother. It is, in a way, a very first Grand Slam. The nature of play for the Cup itself is much closer than the result portrays. A more detailed match report can be found below.
  • 1904 : The cup remains in Britain since the Americans decide to abstain. It is however an opportunity for other European nations to have a go. Both France and Belgium take up the challenge. The Belgians beat the French 3/2 in the knock out round but go down 5/0 against the British in the Challenge Round. 
  • 1905 : The cup again remains in Britain. The Americans smash the French and go on to beat newcomers Australia but are thrashed 5/0 in the Challenge Round by the British.
  • 1906 : The same scenario: 5/0 for the British against the Americans. Davis Cup fever starts to spread. President Roosevelt himself follows progress of the competition closely and is most disappointed at the final result!
  • 1907 : Retirement of the Doherty brothers opens up hopes for others to succeed. The final result however is a surprise to everybody. The Australians Brookes and Wilding crush all opposition and take the cup away from both Europe and America. This is also the year when Norman Brookes wins the men's singles title at Wimbledon, the first year that a foreigner takes away the title.
  • 1908 : Both the Americans and the British defiantly make their way to Melbourne but the Australians retain the cup by beating the Americans 3/2.
  • 1909 : The Americans are thrashed 5/0!
  • 1910 : Brookes and Wilding seem invincible. Neither the Americans nor the British even bother trying to mount a challenge.
  • 1911 : This year Wilding stays back in Europe as the Americans try once again. They are still beaten 5/0! (Wilding was dominant at Wimbldon over this period, winning the singles every year from 1910 to 1913).

Wimbledon 1907 : Davis cup match between 
Australia et U.K. : Brookes is serving

 

The Davis cup: back in 
the USA, 1913
  • 1912 : The French now again decide to enter the fray but lose 4/1 against the British. The British then finally go on to beat the Australians 3/2 in an epic Challenge Round in Melbourne.
  • 1913 : With the cup back in Europe, seven nations now decide to compete! The French are beaten by the Germans but it is the Americans that beat everybody else. They start with the Australians, move on to the Germans, the Canadians and finally the British 3/2 in the Challenge Round. McLoughlin is the first American to make the finals of the men's singles at Wimbledon where he is beaten by the Australian Wilding. This is also the first final at Wimbledon without a British player!
1914 : The bad year. Only the Australians and the Germans decide to take the battle to America. The Australians reconvene the successful partnership of Brookes and Wilding that had taken the cup so convincingly in 1907. The first match however is set in an overbearing atmosphere that war is about to be declared in Europe at any second. The Germans Froitzheim and Kreuser announce from the outset their intention to stop the match immediately should this happen. War is in fact finally declared only a matter of hours after the Australians win the knock out round. They go on to beat the Americans McLoughlin and Williams 3/2 in the Challenge Round. McLoughlin has the satisfaction of winning his two singles matches but this is not enough. For the Australian Wilding, this will sadly be his final victory. Having signed up voluntarily to the British Army, he is killed in action at the front in 1915.
The german team in 1914 :
Froitzheim and Kreuzer
In less than fourteen years, the Davis Cup had become a truly great team competition. It's impact in nurturing the birth of the Grand Slam is quite clear. The knock out and Challenge Rounds were normally contested between the national champions of the competing countries. This forum then allowed these champions to go on to compete in the associated local championships. Hence we find the Englishman Laurie Doherty winning the US in 1903, the Australian Norman Brookes at Wimbledon in 1907, the Englishman Parke in Australia in 1912. Only one thing was really missing now. This was of course the French Championship since it remained closed to foreign players. As we already know, this was not to last much longer.

Let's now have a closer look at Laurie Doherty and Anthony Wilding who were the two most outstanding players before the outbreak of war in 1914. Each of these players, in his own way, won a grand slam:
 

  • - Laurie Doherty, the Englishman who effectively created the concept of the Grand Slam by his great victories in the US Championships and the Davis Cup (of 1903).
  •  -Anthony Wilding, the Australian who was four times world champion on grass and twice on clay.
  • Previous story : The early years of the Men's French Championship: 1891-1914
    Next story : The Doherty era

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    Dernière mise à jour : 12 Mai 2000.
    Copyright BLANCHE NET communications.
    Mars 2000.