1. Study the Record Books
• The Davis Cup’s Most Successful Nations
• Comparing the Davis Cup Before and After 1972
• Winners of the Junior Davis Cup
• The Most Successful Davis Cup Individuals
2. Judging the Surface
• The Best Tour Players on Indoor Hard
• Double Threats
3. Comparing Grand Slams to the Davis Cup
• Davis Cup Performances of Slam Winners Since 2004
Study the Record Books
What can we learn from looking back on Davis Cup history? The new format for the tournament makes this a year of change, but there are lessons and patterns from the past that remain relevant.
The Davis Cup’s Most Successful Nations
The Davis Cup originally operated as a competition between two countries, before turning into a challenge cup featuring other nations. Teams competed to earn a spot to play the defending champion, hoping to rob them of the title. This ensured that few teams had a realistic chance of winning the Davis Cup, while it was easy for nations to claim consecutive victories. The US won every year between 1920 and 1926 and France were victorious from 1927 to 1932.
The switch to a knockout format in 1972 opened up the competition. 15 nations have tasted Davis Cup success since 1972, in comparison to just 4 before the change in format. Sweden have thrived and won 7 titles since the Davis Cup became a knockout.
Comparing the Davis Cup Before and After 1972
The most successful teams of the time, before 1972 and after 1972, are those of Australia and the United States. They formed authentic “Dream teams” with players like Jim Courier, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe.
Winners of the Junior Davis Cup
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) created the Junior Davis Cup in 1985 to give players aged 16 or under the chance to adapt to competitive tennis. 13 different nations have lifted the cup so far, with Spain and Australia claiming 6 titles apiece. Netherlands, Chile, Japan and Canada all have tasted success in the Junior Davis Cup, something which has so far eluded them in the men’s game.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Soviet Union, 1990) Tommy Robredo (Spain, 1998) and Rafael Nadal (Spain, 2002) lifted the Junior Davis Cup before repeating the feat in the men’s version. This year, the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain, 2004), Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov (both Canada, 2015) will be hoping to follow in those players’ footsteps.
The tiered nature of the Davis Cup means that players can rack up impressive winning records without ever taking their team to the title, so there isn’t a strong correlation between the most successful individuals and nations.
Rank – Player – Nationality – Win-Loss
1 – Nicola Pietrangeli – ITA – 120-44 – Pietrangeli boasts the most total wins in Davis Cup rubbers. The two-time French Open champion helped Italy finish as runner-up in 1960 and 1961 but retired before Italy’s first Davis Cup title in 1976.
2 – Ilie Nastase – ROU – 109-37 – Alongside French Open doubles champ Ion Tiriac, Nastase took Romania to new heights in the Davis Cup. Romania finished as runner-up in 1969, 1971 and 1972, with Nastase on his way to becoming the world’s best singles player in 1973.
3 – Omar Alawadhi – UAE – 94-46 – Alawadhi comes in third after the two Grand Slam winners, with the 37-year-old Davis Cup lover only ever reaching a high of 805 in the singles rankings.
4 – Manuel Santana – ESP – 92-28 – In the 1960s, Santana won every Slam but the Australian Open (at which he never played). However, Spain only lifted their first of five Davis Cups in 2000.
5 – Leander Paes – IND – 90-35 – A giant of the doubles game, Paes has eight doubles and ten mixed doubles Slam titles to his name. His 43 wins for India make him the most successful Davis Cup doubles player.
The playing surface takes on a new significance for this year’s Davis Cup. In the past, host nations could choose their preferred surface for a particular tie. Naturally, the home team would select the conditions that best suit their players, while players would end up playing on different surfaces in different rounds. Caja Mágica is renowned as the clay-court home of the Madrid Open, but the Davis Cup will use its indoor hard court facilities for all of the finals.
Here are the records of the best ATP tour performers on indoor hard courts throughout their career. These stats only include individuals still active on the tour, and also discount players who represent nations that haven’t qualified for the finals.
Rank – Player – Nationality – Win-Loss – Win %
1 – Andy Murray – GBR – 135-37 – 79%
2 – Novak Djokovic – SRB – 143-40 – 78%
3 – Juan Martín del Potro – ARG – 98-40 – 71%
4 – Kei Nishikori – JAP – 80-33 – 71%
5 – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – FRA – 145-60 – 71%
6 – Daniil Medvedev – RUS – 40-17 – 70%
7 – Rafael Nadal – ESP – 79-37 – 68%
8 – Milos Raonic – CAN – 66-31 – 68%
9 – Gael Monfils – FRA – 120-58 – 67%
10 – Marin Cilic – CRO – 118-59 – 67%
Nadal’s indoor record may look poor in comparison to his 92% winning record on clay, but his incredible all-round ability helps to make Spain pre-tournament favourites at 7/2. France also look well set for Caja Mágica and are second favourites in the betting markets. While Monfils and Tsonga are ranked 14th and 36th in the overall ATP rankings, the experienced duo’s only ATP titles this year have come indoors (Rotterdam for Monfils, Montpellier and Metz for Tsonga).
The likes of del Potro, Nishikori and Raonic may miss out through fitness, but they would be huge assets for their countries in Spain. Similarly, if Murray is deemed fit enough then the team’s chances will radically improve, with him holding the 7th best indoor record of all time.
Those with more recent form include the American Reilly Opelka. His 5-0 win-loss record on indoor in 2019 may be a small sample, but his booming serve will always make him a threat on this type of court. The Russian Karen Khachanov should similarly benefit, with the powerful player winning titles indoors at the Moscow Open and Paris Masters in 2018.
Being able to call upon players in the team who excel in both singles and doubles can be extremely useful in the Davis Cup format, giving captains greater flexibility about who to send out for certain match-ups. del Potro (Argentina 2016), Murray (2015), Federer, Stan Wawrinka (both Switzerland 2014) and Tomáš Berdych (Czech Republic 2013) played in both singles and doubles for their nation on their way to winning the Davis Cup final.
Having the two best doubles players in the world is also handy. Colombia’s highest-ranked singles player may only be Daniel Elahi Galan in 206th, but Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah are the most formidable doubles partnership in male tennis.
Comparing Grand Slams to the Davis Cup
Since the creation of the World Group in 1981, 19 players have won six or more singles rubbers to help their country lift the Davis Cup. Only 5 of those players failed to win a Grand Slam in their career (David Ferrer, Ivan Ljubičić, Cédric Pioline, Guy Forget, Henrik Sundström).
You have to go back as far as Gaston Gaudio in 2004 to find a Grand Slam singles champ who hasn’t helped their country to lift the Davis Cup.
Roger Federer – 20 Slam titles, helped Switzerland win first Davis Cup in 2014
Rafael Nadal – 19 Slam titles, helped Spain win in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011
Novak Djokovic – 16 Slam titles, helped Serbia win first Davis Cup in 2010
Andy Murray – 3 Slam titles, helped the team win in 2015
Stan Wawrinka – 3 Slam titles, helped Switzerland win first Davis Cup in 2014
Marat Safin – 2 Slam titles, helped Russia win first Davis Cup in 2002 and then again in 2006
Juan Martín del Potro – 1 Slam title, helped Argentina win first Davis Cup in 2016
Marin Cilic – 1 Slam title, helped Croatia win first Davis Cup in 2018
It doesn’t do any harm to be able to call upon a player among the favourites for every Grand Slam, but it isn’t essential – France’s winning team in 2017 featured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (career-high of 5) as its most established player. Having a balanced side can be just as important as having Slam winners on your team.