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post #30 of (permalink) Old 08-06-2006, 06:54 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Tearin' up the hardcourts!

Just saw this from the Washington paper. what a great article
Doubles or Nothing
Twins Bob and Mike Bryan Have Reached the Top of Their Game, Together

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 5, 2006; C01

After coming from behind to win a tennis match at Wimbledon last month, Mike Bryan punched his brother Bob in the nose.

The Bryans -- 28-year-old California identical twins who are the top-ranked professional doubles team in the world -- were down two sets to one, and everything one brother said to the other was being misinterpreted. "We just stopped talking," says left-hander Bob, who is an inch taller, 10 pounds heavier and two minutes younger than right-hander Mike. They know each other well enough to know when to shut up. Even after the victory, they didn't speak.

On the way to their living quarters in London, they were sitting in the back seat of the car and "Bob just turns and takes a punch at my arm," Mike says.

Then Mike hits Bob in the face.

They go at it. The car is rocking, they say. The driver doesn't know what is going on.

Back in their rooms, the brawl rolls on. "Mike kung-fu kicks me in the stomach," Bob says. "Then I break his guitar."

"Five minutes later," Mike says, "we're sitting down to dinner as if nothing has happened."

The Bryan brothers know how to fight. And they know how to win.

Besides taking home the Wimbledon championship trophy this year, they were winners at the Australian Open and runners-up in the French Open at Roland Garros. They have helped the United States reach the Davis Cup semifinals; the team plays Russia next month. And the Bryans -- who will play in the semifinals today after defeating Jim Thomas and Rockville's Paul Goldstein last night before a sellout crowd -- hope to win the Legg Mason tournament here this weekend (as they did last year) and to defend their U.S. Open title later this month.

In their eight years as pros, they have won 30 doubles titles and are the first team in more than 50 years to have reached the finals of seven Grand Slam tournaments in a row.

* * *

Being No. 1 in professional doubles these days is a little like being the best steak-griller at a vegan camp. Tennis doesn't have many friends, and doubles is its homely cousin from out of town. There is not a lot of prize money or sex appeal in doubles, which is surprising, given that it is the game most veteran players can identify with. It has swift action, long points, devilish angle shots and lots of opportunity for physical and mental fireworks and derring-do. It has been said that singles is checkers; doubles is chess.

But most fans watch only singles. There is something so un-contemporary America about doubles. This country promotes individualism, self-reliance, independence. Not complement, consideration, dependence. This is a "your fault" society, not a "my bad" one.

The Bryans possess what their father refers to as the "doubles personality." On a recent sweltering Washington afternoon, Wayne Bryan is sitting in the shade beside Practice Court 1 at the FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, watching Mike and Bob go through a wringing-wet workout. "I used to tell the boys, 'You don't have to get along on the doubles court . . . unless you want to win."

He's a gravelly-voiced, sun-scorched coach type, known on the pro tennis circuit as one of the game's most vocal promoters. He's wearing an orange-and-white shirt and dark shorts and he might as well have a whistle around his neck. He's taking a break from giving clinics to amateurs.

On the court, his sons hit long rallies. Dark hair, dark eyes, in shape. Their ground strokes are eerily similar; they hit the ball arclessly low so that it just clears the net cord. It's like watching one Bryan hit against a mirror. Wayne makes wisecracks from the sideline, but the boys pay zero attention.

Eventually they play some points against a couple of left-handed sparring partners -- their coach, David MacPherson, and one of their idols, Rick Leach, who used to be a No. 1 doubles player in the world. They met Leach when they were 10. He was going out to play his first Davis Cup doubles match. The Bryans told Leach they had just won a junior tournament in Long Beach, Calif. Leach told them he had won the same tournament when he was their age. Wayne believes that that moment was seminal in the Bryans' development.

"It seemed so simple to the boys," Wayne says, laughing. "You win Long Beach at 10; next thing you know, you're playing Davis Cup."

In a way, it was that simple. With a mountain of tough work and sacrifice in between. And setting aside of ego -- being the kind of person who knows when to step forward, when to stay back and support his partner no matter what happens.

Only a handful of players throughout history have been great singles players and great doubles players -- Althea Gibson, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova are among them.

Pete Sampras, Wayne Bryan says, did not have a doubles personality. Nor did Bjorn Borg. Oddly enough, temperamental John McEnroe, who has an ego the size of Manhattan, was able to play both beautifully.

Anna Kournikova, Wayne says, has a doubles personality. But she has been pushed to be a rock star singles player. Wayne knows because he coaches the Sacramento Capitals in professional team tennis and she is an occasional marquee player for his team. "I have watched her. She wants to play doubles."

He says, "We misunderstood her. Put her on a doubles court and she comes alive."

She has all the attributes of a great doubles player, he says. Good volleys, strong returns, and "she's a good poacher" -- knowing just when to invade her partner's territory to make a shot.

She has a great court sense of where her partner is and her opponent is not. "Doubles," he says, "has lots of angles to it."

You can be a great singles player with certain raw gifts -- a psycho-killer serve, a nuclear forehand, the stamina of a government mule. In doubles, you need all those skills and more.

"There are singles players who can't volley," Wayne says. If you can't volley, you'll never be a great doubles player.
Unequal Pay

It's hard to be a pro doubles player. The system works against you. Most mid-level tournaments, like the ones in Washington, Indianapolis and Los Angeles, hold their singles qualifying rounds on Saturday and Sunday, which usually overlap with the doubles finals of the previous week's event. So if you do well in doubles, you cannot qualify in the next singles contest. Most pros don't even bother with the doubles.

"A lot of guys will deef to get to the next qualies," says Wayne, using shorthand for default and qualifying rounds.

The Association of Tennis Professionals, says its vice president, Gayle David Bradshaw, is trying to pump life into doubles. It has changed the scoring to shorten the matches for TV. A financial organization has pledged $1 million a year for the next three as a sponsor.

And the ATP is encouraging more marquee singles players to participate. But for most players, the money is piddling. The Legg Mason Classic singles player receives $3,075 if he loses in the first round and $74,250 if he wins the championship. The doubles player takes home $1,000 if he loses in the first round and $14,750 if he wins the whole thing. Grand Slam tournaments -- Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open -- pay much more.

As the Bryans have become the doubles darlings of tennis, they have moved into a higher echelon. So far this year they have made about $1.2 million in prize money and they will probably pick up another $2 million in endorsements. According to their agent, John Tobias, they are paid between $30,000 and $50,000 in appearance money just to show up at many tournaments and exhibitions.

Most players are not so blessed. "Why would singles players want to play doubles?" says Leach. "The money is less than 20 percent. You have to have passion."

And you often have to make a choice in the way you train and in the way you think. "Bob Bryan could be in the top 20 in singles," says guru and former player Brad Gilbert. "He gave it all up to play doubles with his brother. They obviously have great love for each other."

You need that, he says, to be good at doubles. Gilbert adds, "When I played doubles, I was practicing for singles."

Other players feel the same way. The Bryans' friend Andy Roddick told them they should both be singles players.

But influenced by their father and by other brothers teams such as Tom and Tim Gullikson and Murphy and Luke Jensen, the Bryans decided eight years ago to turn pro and, eventually, to focus on becoming No. 1 in the world as a team.

"It's very challenging to get family members to play together," says Jim Loehr, a sports psychologist at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando who worked with the Gullikson twins. "Team dynamics require an extraordinary level of positive support."

The two best players in the world don't always play well as a team. "Normally the frustration and jealousy that can spark sibling rivalry are amplified in competitive tennis," Loehr says.
Joining Forces

The Bryan brothers sit side by side in their suite at the Key Bridge Marriott on the morning of their first round match, eating the same breakfast -- eggs, bacon, hash browns and grits. Mike is wearing a red T-shirt and dark shorts. Bob is still in his white Marriott robe.

"I think my parents wanted a girl," Mike says. "They got two boys instead." Wayne and Kathy Bryan, owned and managed Cabrillo Racquet Club in Camarillo, Calif. The boys have been playing tennis since they were 2. Throughout their childhood they were both highly ranked junior players. Bob was the No. 1 18-and-under singles player in the United States in 1995. Mike was No. 3. They went to Stanford University in 1997 and 1998 and led the Cardinal to the NCAA team championship both years. In 1998 Bob won the individual NCAA tournament, defeating teammate Paul Goldstein of Rockville. No surprise that Mike and Bob also won the NCAA doubles championship that year. Then they turned pro.

Though Bob had victories over powerhouses such as Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Tim Henman, his highest ATP ranking in singles was 116 in 2000; his career singles record is 18-38. Mike reached 246 in the singles rankings in 2000; his career record is 5-9. Together the brothers' career doubles record is 46-9. They turned their full attention to doubles. They play nearly every week of the year and they travel all over the world.

Wayne goes with the guys sometimes. Kathy almost never does. She was a pro player, once ranked among the top in U.S. singles and doubles (as Kathy Blake). "We don't talk tennis with Mom," Mike says. "She's done all this before." They say it's hard for her to watch them because of her nerves.

"Dad gets all the credit for being our coach," Mike says. "But Mom put in all the daily work, feeding us balls, making our meals."

The Bryans say their parents never cared about winning or losing. But they did want their sons to play hard and show good sportsmanship.

Mike has a temper; Bob doesn't. Bob says, "Mike's been yanked off the court twice because he lost his temper."

Bob: "I'm a little more relaxed. I'm a little more creative. I get lost in my piano."

Mike: "I'm more organized. On time."

Bob: "He's a thinker."

Mike has a girlfriend now. Bob doesn't. "We've never been single at the same time," Bob says.

There are differences on the court as well. Mike's known for his serve returns. Bob for his serve. Bob believes he could be in the top 50 players in the world "if I invested a couple of years of my life in it."

"But," he says, "that's not what fulfills us." They like being No. 1 in something. They like winning most of their matches, which they might not do as singles players. They like drawing larger crowds. "We play a doubles match here, we pack the seats," Bob says. "I play a singles match, the stadium is 25 percent full."

He adds, "I am 100 percent sure that I want to be doing this."

They don't mind sharing the glory. They share just about everything else, even the same bank account. As they were growing up, the family home had enough bedrooms for each boy to have one, but they wanted to sleep in the same room.

"When we get old," Bob says, "we'll probably end up living on the same street."

They joke about their life after tennis. "We will do something together," Bob says.

Maybe own a club. "I'll be head pro," Mike says. And to Bob: "You'll be my assistant."
Game Time

Their first round match on Stadium Court in Washington is delayed. By the 10:30 p.m. start time, there are only about a thousand sweat-drenched spectators in the stands. Before the warm-up, Wayne oversees a goofy promotion in which contestants have to play a matching game with oversize cards.

Over the public address system, Wayne tells the folks to stick around as "Jordan Kerr and Bobby Reynolds take on the number one doubles team in the world: the Rockin' Bryan Twins!"

The Bryans come onto the court to warm up. They are wearing red shirts, black-and-white shorts, black shoes, white socks and good-guy white caps. Bob plays the deuce court; Mike the ad. Bob's first serves are in the 130s. He hits 140 mph with one. Mike has a powerful return.

Their baseline strokes are sure; the volleys strong-wristed.

When they change courts, they sit in chairs side by side. Their legs jiggle in unison.

On the court, they are a coach's dream, tennis fundamentalists -- they run to position, they stay on their toes, they keep each other pumped up with high fives, knuckle knocks, the occasional chest bump. They move their feet, get their rackets back early. They are a well-tuned two-stroke engine. They apologize for missed shots, encourage each other to poach.

But most of all they focus. They are like velociraptors, double-teaming their prey.

They win the match, 6-4, 6-2, in 52 minutes.

As they carry their bags from the court, scores of young people and adults wait at the exit, asking the Bryans to sign oversize tennis balls and programs. The brothers take their time. It's getting near midnight, but they don't seem in a hurry to leave.

They are on center court. They are winning much more than they are losing. They are No. 1. Both of them. Together.

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