Returning from Australia in 1951, Tony Trabert told friends, "I don't care how many major tournaments you play in—the Davis Cup is in a class by itself. You, as an individual, are representing an entire nation. It's a wonderful—but terrifying sensation."
Since Dwight Filley Davis, a lefthander who won the intercollegiate title for Harvard in 1899, put the Davis Cup into international team competition in 1900, some of the world's greatest players have felt that same wonderful but terrifying sensation. They have come from 47 nations to battle for a Cup which has now traveled nearly 100,000 miles.
A history of these travels furnishes a few good rules of thumb: the nation with the greatest singles player usually wins the Cup; a nation with two great players can hardly miss; when Challenge Round rivals are evenly matched—as this year's teams appear to be—the outcome can go either way.
Norman E. Brookes and Anthony F. Wilding were the first truly dominant players in Cup history. They won for Australasia before World War I and might have gone on winning had it not been for the arrival in 1920 of "Big Bill" Tilden and "Little Bill" Johnston, who, between them, won 24 out of 26 singles matches during the next seven Challenge Rounds. But in 1927 the French struck it richer than they ever had before—or have since. René Lacoste and Henri Cochet were the best. So the Davis Cup went to Paris until Fred Perry and Bunny Austin took charge for England in the mid-'30s. Don Budge—possibly the greatest of all time—brought the Cup back to the U.S. in 1937. Since then history has repeated itself many times. The nation with the No. 1 star—whether it was America with Budge, then Riggs, Kramer, Schroeder and Gonzales, or Australia with Quist, Bromwich, Sedgman—clung to the Davis Cup. Since Sedgman turned professional, tennis has known no undisputed champion.
Experts characteristically disagree on which was the best match in history. Australia's Jack Crawford, an old Cup player himself, conceded that the first set of last year's Hoad-Trabert match "produced the greatest play I have ever seen." Walter Pate, the U.S. captain in 1937, favors that year's Inter-Zone match between Budge and Germany's Gottfried von Cramm. After Hitler's direct orders to win, the German led, first at two sets to none, then at 4-1 in the fifth set before Budge pulled it out, 8-6. "No other man, living or dead, could have beaten either man that day," says Pate.
That is the kind of tennis Davis Cup play aims to produce.