Channel Hopping

When Great Britain played Belgium for the Davis Cup

British and belgium davis cup teams, 1904

Very little is known about Catherine Anne Doherty, a teacher in Wimbledon at the turn of the twentieth century but, in one sense at least, she was the Judy Murray of her day.

Two of her sons, Reggie and Laurie Doherty, were the strongest tennis players in Great Britain, and formed the core of the team in the 1904 Davis Cup Final, against Belgium.

Triumph Over Adversity

The Doherty brothers were plagued with health problems throughout their short lives but their apparent fraility was deceptive. Their performances on court were rock solid.

They had taken the Davis Cup while on a trip to the United States the previous year and, in a final show of power, Laurie had reigned supreme at the US National Championship, the predecessor of the US Open. He had been the first non-American to lift the trophy.

Reggie (above, top left) had won four Wimbledon singles titles and two Olympic gold medals, with one to come, while Laurie (above, top right) had three Wimbledon titles, with two to come, and two golds. Wimbledon finalist, Frank Riseley, was the third man.

They Should be Famous Belgians

One of their Belgian opponents was Paul de Borman (above, bottom right) and the other was the gloriously named William le Maire de Warzee d’Hermalle (above, bottom left).

It was a golden age for men’s tennis in Belgium. De Borman had reached the semi-finals of that year’s Wimbledon and de Warzee the quarter-finals. In 1909, five Belgian players would blaze a trail in the men’s singles draw, at a time when overseas entries were rare.

De Borman was a vital figure in his country’s tennis history. In 1898, he co-founded the tennis section of the Royal Leopold Club, which would later produce many of Belgium’s shining stars, including Justine Henin. In 1946, he would become president of the ITF.

The Dohertys in America, 1902

Despite this energy, Great Britain extinguished the threat, winning in three rubbers and losing just 14 games. The Dohertys began the decisive doubles match with a 6-0 victory in the first set, inflicting a bagel upon the country which is better known for its waffles.

De Borman was perhaps disadvantaged by his cap, which he apparently wore on court.

Where Were the Americans?

Belgium and France were the first continental European nations to enter but the United States did not take part, despite having created the event. Dwight F Davis, the donor of the cup named after him, had played against the Dohertys in 1902 (above, bottom right).

In those days, a trans-Atlantic journey was a huge undetaking, but it may also have been the case that the competition did not inspire the patriotic fervour which it does today.

It was not yet called the Davis Cup but instead was described as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge. In its reporting of the decision not to participate, the New York Times referred to the British team throughout as the Dohertys. It was as if, rather than being representatives of a nation, the US saw its recent conquerors as just a pair of brothers.

Next week: The start of a series on genetics in sport, focusing on basketball in particular

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