Davis Cup Tennis Facts and Information
In the spring of 1897, as the end of their freshman year at Harvard approached, Dwight Davis and Holcombe Ward were absorbed in a new research project. Their 'laboratory' was not on the university grounds in Cambridge, however. Their work was being done on the other side of the river in Brookline, on the tennis courts of the Longwood Cricket Club. In practice matches next to Malcolm Whitman, Ward was getting beaten regularly. (No surprise, really. Whitman had broken into the USNLTA's rankings of the top ten US players a year earlier.) One reason for his defeats, Ward decided, was the flaw of his (Ward's) serve, which Whitman pounded back at his feet before he could get to the net to volley.
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In order to prevent this, Ward began testing a innovative serve - the ball hit high in the air, with a twist of the racket which would take the ball from one side of the racquet to the other, and a strong follow through which propelled the server forward towards the net. Davis observed his friend's innovation and pointed out the efficient bounce the ball would take if focused power were applied at just the right second.
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As the summer tennis season progressed Ward and Davis continued to fiddle with and refine the new serve. When all was working right, the ball's curve through the air and high bounce gave the server more instances to rush forward and get positioned at the net. Whitman was by now using a 'reverse twist' serve, striking the ball upwards from right to left which made it break to the receiver's right. It was effective, but different from the one Ward and Davis were working out.
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After trailing the first set, Davis, ever the risk-taker, pounded Whitman with fast, deep drives that this time stayed in. He finished off the final set 6-0 by returning Whitman's last serve with what the New York Sun called a nervy, grueling 'ace' - a term used for any clean winner, not just a serve. It was a 'disastrous end for his [Whitman's] highly victorious season', said the newspaper. (Leo Ware actually went on to take the title in four sets, defeating Davis who they say that had injured his foot.)
At season's end Whitman was ranked number one amid American players, and Davis, who had started the year ranked 22nd, was ranked fourth. And though Davis's position would climb to second in 1899 and 1900 (behind Whitman), and though, in the spring of 1899, he would be regarded by some experts as the most talented of all the younger generation of players, he would never again, as it turned out, get as close to captivating the American singles championship as he did in 1898. Doubles, though, that would be a unusual story.
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