On This Day: Davis Cup international tennis competition launched

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FEBRUARY 9, 1900: The Davis Cup international men’s tennis tournament was launched on this day in 1900 - with the U.S. thrashing Great Britain 3-0 in the first ever tie.

American Dwight Davis, who inspired the contest, led his team's victory by winning both his single and doubles matches at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston.

Malcolm Whitman also beat Team GB’s Arthur Gore to ensure that America only needed to play three of the scheduled five matches to win.

The tournament, which was initially called the International Lawn Tennis Trophy, has since been expanded from these two nations to the 130 competing annually.

It was last won by Team GB in 1936 after Fred Perry had helped his country to earn the trophy four years in a row.

A British Pathé newsreel from 1934 shows the working class winner of eight grand slams beating America’s Frank Shields over four sets at Wimbledon.

That year, Great Britain won the final 4-1 after Perry and Bunny Austin each played two singles matches and another pair competed as doubles.

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Dwight Davis (L) led his team's victory by winning both his single and doubles matches (PA)


Since then, the U.S. team has gone on to dominate the Davis Cup – winning 32 times – followed by Australia with 28.

Despite Great Britain’s lack of success over the past eight decades, they still lie third equal with France in the rankings, with both nations having won nine times.

The structure of the tournament has changed markedly since its inception as a challenge competition in which all competing nations played each other.

[On This Day: England win the World Cup]

With so many countries participating, most countries are now divided by regions and split into 12 different groups from which teams can be promoted and relegated.

But only the leading 16 nations who are good enough to play in the top-flight, the World Group, can actually win the Davis Cup.

Teams in this division are then seeded and over the course of a year play up to four ties before potentially reaching the final of this knockout competition.

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Fred Perry had helped the UK to earn the trophy four years in a row (AP Photo)


But only the eight winners of the first round tie have their places guaranteed for the following season, with eight up for grabs.

To decide who gets those places, the eight first-round losers from the World Group play the top eight finishers in the three regional zones of Group One in a special play-off round.

It was this system that allowed Britain to be relegated from the top flight for the first time ever in 2005 after losing a play-off against Switzerland.

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Team GB did not return to the World Group until 2008.

This year, Great Britain have reached the quarter finals, which is actually only the second tie in the top division, for the first time since 1986.

Andy Murray helped his nation beat the U.S. for the first time since 1935 after his victory over Sam Querrey gave Britain an unassailable 3-1 lead in the San Diego tie.

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Andy Murray helped the UK beat the U.S. for the first time since 1935 (Getty)


GB will now travel to Italy in April for a quarter-final tie that will almost certainly be played on clay.

The host nation, which is determined in advance by the International Tennis Federation, is allowed to choose the surface.

Ties take place over three days and teams are allowed to field up to four players – although not all of those need to play.

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On the first day, two singles matches take place, while on the second a doubles match is scheduled, and on day three the teams must play two more singles matches.

The heavy workload favours nations with strength in depth – something Britain has long been short of, although James Ward has been playing well this season.

The women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup is the Fed Cup, which GB have never won.

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