In the initial format for the Davis Cup tournament beginning in 1900, all competing teams would compete against one another to qualify to challenge the reigning champions in the final round. In order to adjust to the increase in the competition’s number of participating teams over the years, however, the Davis Cup tournament began splitting into zones until the tournament for the actual Cup ultimately became limited to the world’s top sixteen tennis-playing nations each year, which make up the tournament’s World Group, with the remaining nations being divided into four geographic zones to compete for future opportunities to become one the World Group’s sixteen.
Once the U.S. and British Lawn tennis associations agreed to go into into the tournament against one another, Harvard’s Dwight F. Davis, partly responsible for the idea, spent $700 of his own money to buy the now famous sterling silver trophy from Shreve, Crump & Low – the Cup which would be passed from year to year to the tournament’s champions, and which the sixteen World Group teams vie for each year. Rowland Rhodes, an Englishman in New England, was commissioned by the company to design a bowl that would serve as a fitting award for the winners of the newly established international tennis competition. The trophy was a 13 inch high, 18 inch wide sterling silver bowl washed in gold, designed in classical style. Its top edge was decorated with a border of primrose and acanthus leave clusters, with the primrose images reappearing at the bottom of the bowl along with buds and tendrils. After Davis’ death in 1945, the trophy became known as the Davis Cup in his memory and honor, and the tournament – originally called the International Lawn Tennis Challenge – became known by the same name. In 2002, a new plinth was additional to the Davis Cup trophy, giving it sixteen more plaques and castings, in addition as 43 more inches in height – and nevertheless growing once the Cup once again runs out of room for more plaques engraved with the names of each year’s winners and finalists. The Cup that originally cost Davis $700 in 1900 would cost approximately $600,000 to replicate in its present day form.
The United States with a total of 32 Davis Cup wins, and Australia with a total of 28 wins (including those won under partnership with New Zealand maintained between 1905-1914), have been the best-performing country’s throughout the tournament’s history, having acquired possession of the sports award more times than any other nation. Respectively, they have also finished as runners-up 29 times and 19 times. Great Britain (including 5 years that they competed as the British Isles) and France have won the trophy a total of nine times each, and Sweden has won seven times.
The trophy’s history is among the richest in sports, having embarked upon many adventures in the hands of the various players of the Cup’s winning teams over its 111 year history. Fred Perry of Britain, and Henri Cochet of France, for example, took the trophy nightclub-hopping around France after the 1933 final between their nations, drinking champagne from the bowl of the cup throughout their adventure. Another famous Davis Cup story involves Mabel Brookes, the wife of Norman Brookes of Australia, who used it as a vase for peonies for a while until she grew tired of looking at its dominating features and carelessly tossed the famous Cup away, out of sight, into a bank vault.