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Original Issue


Dwight Davis: The Man and The Cup
Nancy Kriplen
Ebury Press, $29.95

In this year, the 100th anniversary of the Davis Cup, Kriplen's
impeccably researched biography is a fitting tribute to both
Dwight Davis and the competition he founded. A century ago,
Davis, then a tennis player at Harvard, was gripped by
inspiration as he followed the America's Cup yacht race in the
newspapers. Why, he mused, couldn't his sport hold a similar
international competition? Before graduating in 1900, he
arranged for a team from Britain to compete against a U.S.
consortium made up of his Harvard chums. He then forked over
about $1,000--serious beer money for a college kid, even by
today's standards--to a Boston jeweler for an ornate silver
punch bowl and created the International Lawn Tennis Challenge

In the inaugural "tie," held in Brookline, Mass., at the old
Longwood Cricket Club (the U.S. and Australia will do battle
July 16-18 at Longwood, now in Chestnut Hill, Mass.), Davis won
his matches in both singles and doubles as the U.S. team crushed
Great Britain 3-0. The Brits bemoaned everything from a
"continually sagging" net to "abominable" grounds to round balls
that became "eggified" balls to serves by the Americans with so
much twist as to make them virtually unreturnable. From those
modest origins was spawned the annual competition that, having
taken Davis's name, now includes 129 nations and has been played
on surfaces that include not only the original grass but also
wood and cow dung.

Davis's legacy endures through tennis, but his accomplishments,
Kriplen illustrates in convincing detail, went well beyond those
of a fuzzy, bouncing ball. Davis was an exemplar of noblesse
oblige, a man of patrician upbringing who devoted himself to
public service. In addition to earning a Distinguished Service
Cross for heroism while serving in the Army in World War I,
Davis served as President Coolidge's Secretary of War and was
President Hoover's governor-general in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the worldwide tennis event he fashioned grew steadily
in prestige. The Cup he purchased as an undergraduate became
such a coveted trophy that Hitler was reported to have
telephoned German Davis Cup players and to have bid them luck
before they took the court. As Davis remarked before he died in
1945 at age 66, "If I had known of [the Cup's] coming
significance, it would have been cast in gold."

Though Kriplen's book commits a few unforced errors--it begs,
for instance, for more on-court anecdotes from the Davis Cup's
textured history--it ultimately succeeds as both a piece of
sportswriting and a rich biography. Moreover, the author
provides a thorough history of the silver chalice itself,
including a play-by-play account of the design and manufacture,
down to the engraving, and her work is eminently readable. That,
if you'll pardon the pun, might be the book's most sterling