Ten years ago, Bob and Mike Bryan were still establishing themselves as a rising doubles pair when they shockingly ran to the title at Roland Garros, their very first major title together. For a pair of brothers from Southern California who had groomed their doubles games on the hard and slick courts of the Pacific Coast, overcoming Paul Haarhuis and Yevgeny Kafelnikov on the red dirt of Paris was an unlikely feat.
A decade later however, the brothers returned to Philippe Chatrier Court for the men's doubles final as the most successful team of all time: They own 13 majors, have won all four Grand Slams and 88 tournament crowns. They were made to work hard for their 14th major (and 89th title) by a pair of crowd-adored Frenchman in Nicolas Mahut and Michael Llodra, the Americans squeaking through as twilight began to blanket the stadium court, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4).
The achievement was a marked one for the Bryans, whose trophy cases are brimming, as they captured their first Roland Garros since that June day in 2003, with 12 majors between their two Paris triumphs. In 2005, 2006 and 2012, they fell just a match short, losing in the final here.
But today it was their match to win from the start. The top seeds and world No.1-ranked team came into Saturday's final with a convincing nine straight sets won and none lost in Paris, having been pushed to a tiebreak just once, in the second round. They had won 13 straight matches in total, coming off victories in Madrid and Rome prior to Paris.
After capturing their first service game by holding to love, the brothers were challenged gallantly by the pair of French veterans, who were spurred on by an encouraging home crowd. At 3-all in the second, with the brothers pressing, Mahut scrambled for an overhead into the sideline flowers on Chatrier, lobbing the ball up and falling over in the process. But his lob was in, and the French eventually won the point and the game, helping to fire them up and propel them to the second set, 6-4. It was the Bryans' first lost set of the tournament.
In the third and deciding set, Llodra/Mahut played toe-to-toe with the Bryans, doubles mastery in full flight. The four men traded jabs at the net, slicing and kissing the ball off their racquets to try and throw their opponents off. Mahut hit another lob that ducked into the baseline at 4-3 up, giving the French a slim chance to break and serve for the match, but Bob the lefty took care of his service, eventually forcing a third-set breaker.
The Frenchman dashed into a 4-2 mini-break lead, switching sides and bringing the crowd to its feet. But the Bryan brothers haven't become the most storied team in doubles for no reason. They reeled off five straight points, Mike finishing one with a poached drop volley that died when it hit the dirt.
"These guys are two of the greatest guys on tour," Bob told the crowd after the win. "You played unbelievable today, we were lucky. It could have gone either way today. Today we were pretty fortunate."
Mahut, teary-eyed, was playing in his first-ever Grand Slam final. "We will be back together next year and will try to bring the trophy back home," he said through sniffles as he stood alongside his partner Llodra, who was the last Frenchman to win here back in 2004 with the now-retired Fabrice Santoro.