The logic was perfectly simple, perhaps even obvious: “If team matches between players from different parts of the same country arouse such great interest and promote such good feeling, would not international contests have even wider and far-reaching consequences?” So hypothesized Dwight, a young Harvard student who had just won the 1899 intercollegiate single title. To test his theory, he bought a silver trophy. Representatives of Great Britain were invited to Longwood Cricket Club to challenge Dwight and an all-Harvard team, which swept the three matches.
A full century later, the tradition continues. And the man who would go on to great heights in political and social service would be forever linked with the tournament that bears his name; the tournament played for honor and country; the tournament played for “Dwight’s pot.” Also known as the Davis Cup.
Though primarily remembered as the founder of the international competition that bears his name, Dwight Davis was also one of the best tennis players in the world at the turn of the century and a public servant who served his country as secretary of war and as governor-general of the Philippines. A 6-foot, 190-pound power-hitting lefthander, Dwight won the intercollegiate singles championship in 1899, the year after he had lost in the finals of the U.S. Championships. Ranked in the U.S. top-10 four-straight years fin 1898 thru 1901 – and as high as second in 1899 and fourth in 1898 and 1902 – Dwight also was an outstanding doubles player who won the national doubles title three times from 1899-1901 and was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 1901.
But it was as the organizer of the Davis Cup in 1900, the year that he graduated from Harvard, that Dwight made his most enduring contribution to tennis. He paid a Boston jewelry firm $750 to make a 13-inch diameter sterling silver bowl, which he donated to the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association for an international competition. The association in turn invited England, the dominate country in tennis since the game’s founding, to compete against an American team at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Massachusetts during the summer of 1900.
With Dwight as the captain, the U.S. team vanquished the favored British team, with Dwight winning the second singles match as well as the doubles. Then, as now, the format conceived by Dwight was for two singles matches on the first and third days with a doubles match on the second day, with one point awarded for each victory.
Over the years, though, he stayed close to the game he loved. The “Father of the Davis Cup” served as president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association in 1923. Thirteen years later, at the age of 57, he won the U.S. National Veterans (over 45) Doubles Championship, his last title. Later, he was the board chairman of the Brookings Institute.
Shortly before his death in 1945, Dwight, who was posthumously inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1956, said of the Davis Cup, “If I had known of its coming significance, I would have had it cast in gold rather than silver.”