120 years ago, the Davis Cup was born when, in 1900, a young dreamer named Dwight Davis envisioned a team tennis competition that would ultimately measure nations. One year ago today in Madrid, the Davis Cup proved that it can not only survive the test of time, but also adapt to it.
The famous phrase "I have a dream", spoken in 1963 by the American activist Martin Luther King, was not the words of Dwight Davis but he certainly had a dream too, and what's more, it came true.
Born in 1879 and later a student at Harvard University, Davis was a regular tennis player along with some of his classmates when he had the idea of promoting a national team competition in which several players would compete against each other. It was said and done: in 1900, from 8–10 August, three Americans and three British players – travelling from the other side of the Atlantic – faced each other at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston on a grass court. The United States won 3-0 with Davis himself as captain and player.
120 years later, the Davis Cup has become the largest annual international team sports competition. In 2020, no fewer than 142 nations, through their federations, registered to take part. Its current format culminates with the best 18 teams competing in a single week in a true world tennis championship that in its first edition, in 2019 in Madrid, showed how the essence of the competition endures.
Over the course of its 120-year history, the Davis Cup had already undergone other reforms. The most significant, without doubt, was in 1972 when the Challenge Round format – where the champion of each edition qualified directly for the final the following year to defend the title – was abolished. By then, there were already more than 50 countries fighting for the trophy every year. Barely a decade later, in 1981, another important change marked a new stage: the creation of the World Group, which brought together only the top 16 national teams, creating a system based on different divisions that made the competition simpler and fairer. Matches were held on a home-and-away basis. Finally, the format launched in Madrid in 2019 saw the beginning of a new era that placed the Davis Cup on a par with other major annual sporting events. The new format brings together the 18 best teams in the same week and turns the Davis Cup into a real tennis world championship that follows the same pattern as world championships in other global sports. This makes it easier to reach all types of audiences, to involve the best players, and maintains the essence of providing tennis with a real challenge for national teams.
In 2021, the Davis Cup will crown new champions and the dream of Dwight Davis will continue to be a brilliant reality.