Last weekend, the British Davis Cup squad pulled off a major upset, defeating the Russian team 3-2. Even more impressively, all three of their wins came while facing elimination. The Russians won the two singles matches on the first day before Britain claimed the doubles rubber and both of the reverse singles rubbers on the final day.
It was the first time since 1930 that Britain won a Davis Cup tie from a 2-0 deficit. It’s also one of the very few times in the modern era that any country has won a tie after failing to post a point on the first day.
Since the formation of the current structure in 1981, there have been 1310 completed ties in the World Group and Group 1, including playoffs. In 802 of those (61.2%), one team has raced out to a 2-0 lead by sweeping the first-day singles matches.
Of those 802 ties, Britain’s comeback was only the 19th in this 33-year span, and the first since Canada surged to victory against Ecuador in 2011. Playing the tie at home doesn’t seem to help the underdogs: Only eight of those 19 comebacks came at home.
Many Davis Cup ties, especially at the Group 1 level, are quite lopsided, so clinching the tie with the doubles match is quite common. In fact, that’s what has happened in nearly half of all ties at the World Group and Group 1 levels since 1981 (577, or 44.0%). So once a squad is down 2-0, the odds are massively stacked against them. Here are the historical outcomes for teams that sweep day one:
Clinched in… 3rd rubber 577 71.9% 4th rubber 159 19.8% 5th rubber 47 5.9% Won 783 97.6% Lost 19 2.4%
Here are the 19 odds-busting ties:
Year Home Surface Winner 2013 G1 R2: GBR vs RUS GBR Hard GBR 2011 G1 R2: ECU vs CAN ECU Clay CAN 2010 G1 PO: KOR vs PHI KOR Hard PHI 2010 WG PO: IND vs BRA IND Hard IND 1998 WG R1: SVK vs SWE SVK Clay SWE 1997 G1 QF: PHI vs INA PHI Clay INA 1997 WG R1: ROU vs NED ROU Hard NED 1996 WG SF: FRA vs ITA FRA Carpet FRA 1996 G1 PO: TPE vs INA TPE Hard INA 1995 WG SF: RUS vs GER RUS Clay RUS 1995 G1 PO: PER vs BAH PER Clay BAH 1995 WG R1: DEN vs SWE DEN Carpet SWE 1994 WG SF: SWE vs USA SWE Carpet SWE 1992 WG R1: CAN vs SWE CAN Carpet SWE 1990 G1 QF: IRL vs ROU IRL Carpet ROU 1989 G1 SF: PER vs BRA PER Clay PER 1988 G1 F: INA vs KOR INA Clay INA 1988 WG PO: SUI vs MEX SUI Carpet MEX 1988 G1 QF: PHI vs JPN PHI Clay PHI
It can be done, even in the late rounds of the World Group. But generally, it’s a good idea to start off the weekend by winning a singles match or two.