The Davis Cup finals of the 1970s were a mixture of old favourites and new faces in a decade where global politics and sport collided.
The 1970s opened in the midst of a long Davis Cup title run for the USA and closed in the same style. But in the middle were some new guests at the party; South Africa and Italy both won their first trophies in the competition.
The USA had sewn up the previous two titles and in the first final of the decade in 1970, was looking for a third. As defending champions, the Americans took on the inter-zonal winners West Germany in the Challenge Round.
Playing in already his seventh Davis Cup, and winner of that year’s Australian Open, Arthur Ashe opened proceedings for the USA in Cleveland, notching up the first point for the Americans with a win over Wilhelm Bungert – who would go on to captain Germany’s Davis Cup team in the 1980s.
Ashe closed out the final with a five-set victory over Christian Kuhnke, securing a 5-0 third consecutive Davis Cup victory for the Americans.
The following year, the USA hosted Romania in North Carolina for what would turn out to be a much tighter affair.
Stan Smith, fresh from his US Open victory, came up against the colourful Ilie Nastase in the first of the singles, securing a three-set victory. Nastase, along with partner Ion Tiriac, would have his revenge in the doubles, defeating Smith and partner Erik van Dillen.
Nastase, who currently stands second on the Davis Cup list of all-time winners behind Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli, took the final victory of the tie, but it was not enough to stop the USA from winning a fourth consecutive title.
In an almost identical match-up the following year in Bucharest, with the USA’s Tom Gorman replacing Frank Froehling as the only difference in teams, the USA did it again, securing an identical 3-2 victory against Romania.
The Challenge Round, where the reigning champion received a bye to the final, was abolished in 1972, and the following year the USA’s streak was broken by Australia.
The Americans progressed through to the final but, once again in Cleveland, Smith, Gorman and van Dillen were no match for Rod Laver and John Newcombe – the pair double-handedly securing a 5-0 victory and a 23rd title for Australia.
In 1974, South Africa got to the Davis Cup final for the first, and so far only time. The country had been barred from the competition in 1970 as a result of the South African government’s policy of Apartheid. Along with the Davis Cup, South Africa had been expelled from a large number of international sports competitions.
Reinstated in 1973, South Africa reached the final with victory over Italy and were due to host India in Johannesburg. India refused to travel to South Africa due to continued opposition to Apartheid, and thus defaulted the final.
South Africa got a walk over and their sole Davis Cup title, becoming only the fifth nation to make the honour roll.
In 1979, South Africa was once again expelled from the competition following further protests and boycotts by other nations. The country would not return to the Davis Cup until 1992.
In a precursor of the dominance that would follow in the next decade, Sweden took its first Davis Cup title in 1975. The Swedes had played Chile in the semi-final in another match mired in political protest, but then faced the Czech Republic in the final.
The talent of a certain Bjorn Borg, in the midst of a prolific career that would net him 11 Grand Slam titles and a Davis Cup winning streak tally of 33 ties, helped Sweden to a 3-2 victory in Stockholm.
In 1976, Italy added its name to the list of title holders, another team that decade to secure a first and only Davis Cup win. Corrado Barazzutti, who would take over as Italy’s Davis Cup captain in 2001, got his team off to a winning start, with Tonino Zugarelli the only Italian to lose in the 4-1 victory against Chile in Santiago.
Barazutti, who became the longest serving captain in Italy’s history, played again the following year when the Italians had to settle for the runners-up spot in Sydney as Australia once again took the title, although not without a battle including a five-set tussle between Australia’s John Alexander and Adriano Panatta, Roland-Garros winner from the year before.
Bookending the decade with perfect symmetry, the USA closed out the 1970s with two consecutive wins. In 1978 they faced Great Britain – the first time the British had made the final since 1937.
Playing in his first Davis Cup, a 19-year-old John McEnroe on the cusp of a brilliant career beat both John Lloyd and Buster Mottram, helping to secure a 4-1 victory for the Americans over the British.
McEnroe once again played a pivotal part in a US victory in the last Davis Cup final of the decade, joining Vitas Gerulaitis, Bob Lutz and Stan Smith to inflict a 5-0 victory over Italy in San Francisco.