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Douglas College sports academic exposes myth surrounding the Davis Cup

New research by a Douglas College Sport Science instructor has busted one of the biggest myths in the tennis world.

Robert Lake, along with fellow sports academic Simon Eaves of Manchester Metropolitan University, have revealed the real history behind the genesis of the prestigious Davis Cup – the largest men’s tennis competition in the world, with 125 nations competing annually. 

Lake and Eaves have published a paper, Dwight Davis and the Foundation of the Davis Cup in Tennis: Just another Doubleday Myth?, in the Spring 2018 issue of the Journal of Sport History to tell the real story. 

For more than 100 years, Dwight F. Davis, a wealthy American politician and tennis pioneer, has been credited for the concept of the Davis Cup. But records uncovered by Lake and Eaves show evidence of conversations between tennis players on both side of the Atlantic – namely James Dwight, Manliffe Goodbody, Charles Voigt, Harold Mahony, Bill Larned, and E. P. Fischer – and the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA) about a formal international tennis competition well before the inaugural event in 1900. 

“Davis’s involvement can be counted on one finger: the donation of a silver cup to the competition, thus dispelling one of the biggest myths in tennis history,” Lake says.

Davis donated the silver cup anonymously, to avoid a conflict of interest as he was taking part in the vote held by USNLTA (now the United States Tennis Association) on whether to approve the tournament, Lake said.

But once the tournament had been approved, Davis took credit for his donation. And because of Davis’s societal status, wealth and connections to powerful people, no one took issue with his manipulation and sole claim to the tournament’s creation.

“He deliberately deceived others to ensure that the Davis Cup was formally approved,” Lake said. “He also stipulated that if the event was not as big as he hoped it would be, the silver cup would be returned to him.” 

While Lake has doubts that there will be interest from the Davis Cup organization on this discovery, it’s a story that needs to be told, he said.

“History is not just a record of something that happened in the past, but an active interpretation of what happened in the past, and is therefore subject to different factors and biases that should be open to critique,” he said.


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