November 2015 saw tournament outsiders Great Britain lift the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936. The premier men’s team tennis event saw GB defeat tournament tops seeds France along the way, ending a 79 year wait for the title. Despite this, Britain are still the third most successful nation in the event history of the event.
USA and Australia are the clear stand out nations when it comes to Davis Cup success. USA also boasts the record for the most consecutive titles (seven) between the years 1920-1926. Australia also holds their own record for the most consecutive finals (23) between the years 1946-1968. Argentina holds the unfortunate record for the most successful team never to win the tournament, losing out in the final on four separate occasions. GB’s success in the Davis Cup came primarily at the beginning of the 1900’s, with all other nine remaining victories occurring before 1936.
So, how did a team that has not tasted success for decades end up lifting the trophy? GB’s path to the 2015 final ironically pitted them against USA, Australia and favourites France. In spite of GB’s main weapon; Andy Murray, the Davis Cup is a team event. So how did the British team fare against their opponents in terms of world ranking?
Against France and USA, GB had the weakest singles and doubles team in terms of average world ranking. Furthermore, it was not until the final against Belgium that Britain were considered the strongest team in terms of average world ranking in both singles and doubles.
One of the main reasons the Davis Cup adopts its format is to reward the strongest team, rather than letting the best individual player win all the points. But is this always the case? It is often said that the last 10 – 15 years have represented a golden era for men’s tennis, with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Murray himself all dominating the world rankings and major tournaments for the majority of this period. Similarly, these four tennis superstars have also helped guide their respective nations to Davis Cup success in recent years.
Since 2010, the highest ranked player in the final has been on the winning side on four out of six occasions, including Andy Murray who remained undefeated throughout the whole of the 2015 Davis Cup. However, during the Czech Republic’s victories in 2012 and 2013, the highest ranked individual ended up as runners up. Interestingly, on both these occasions, Tomas Berdych lost his individual matches against his highest ranked counterparts, yet triumphed overall. It must also be noted that during these two finals, Novak Djokovic (2013) and David Ferrer (2012) only played in two matches, instead of a possible three, thus relying on teammates to secure a potential match winning third point, whereas Murray could influence all three matches he played, regardless of what the rest of the team achieved.
September 16th-18th will see GB take on Argentina in the Davis Cup semi-final as they continue their bid to retain their trophy. This matchup will also most likely see a repeat of the Olympic gold medal match between Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro.
Argentina lead GB 3-1 in terms of previous Davis Cup meetings. However, Murray holds a 6-2 advantage over Del Potro in career head-to-heads, including an indoor hard court victory, similar to their upcoming playing surface.
In terms of GB defending their title, in the last 10 years only twice has a nation been able to retain their Davis Cup crown (2009 & 2013). GB are already through to the semi-final in 2016, which follows a similar trend to previous years. In the last 10 years, 70% of the time, the defending nation has reached the semi-final or greater the year after their success. Only Switzerland in 2015 saw a drastic turn of fortunes, with the defending champions failing to win their opening tie against eventual finalists Belgium. However, this may be down to the absence of Roger Federer, who passed up the opportunity to represent Switzerland during the entire 2015 Davis Cup campaign.
So, does the Davis Cup reward the strongest team each year or is it heavily favoured towards the top individual players? Recent history suggests that if a nation has an individual player in the top 10 world rankings, then they will have a great chance. Their chances will increase if that player can also play doubles, resulting in being involved in three out of five possible matches. In a best of five format, if one player can win three points, then what the rest of the team achieves becomes irrelevant. During GB’s 2015 quarter-final, semi-final and final, Andy Murray was involved in winning all three points during these ties. It must be noted though, that Andy Murray is not GB’s only weapon; His brother Jamie, one of the best doubles players in the world, also went undefeated during the 2015 Davis Cup. Possessing top players in both the singles and doubles was integral to Great Britain’s success, and will prove just as important in their semi-final tie this weekend.