Team GB and the Rarity of Davis Cup Comebacks

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.

One thought on “Team GB and the Rarity of Davis Cup Comebacks”

Comments are closed.