Two For One
By Richard Pagliaro
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Magnetized mementos, menus and meal plans may cram the face of your refrigerator door. But if you grew up in Bob and Mike Bryan’s boyhood home in the heart of the strawberry capital of the country — Camarillo, California — you would have reached for your morning milk only to find the refrigerator feeding you a life plan of ever-expanding goals that grew to rival the family grocery list taped to the refrigerator door.
"From the time they started playing tennis as 6-year-olds Mike and Bob always wrote down their goals and taped them on the refrigerator along with their schedule for the year so every day they saw them," says father Wayne Bryan, a World TeamTennis coach of the year, who along with his wife Kathy, a former Wimbledon mixed doubles quarterfinalist, served as the twins first coach. "Putting their goals and schedule on the refrigerator gave them perspective: a looking backward at the results they already had and a looking forward to what was ahead. They always had maximum motivation and always had goals posted on that refrigerator as a reminder: first to be No. 1 in the 10s, then to be the top team in the country, earn scholarships to Stanford. And the ultimate goal was always to win all four Grand Slams as a doubles team, be the No. 1 team in the world and help the USA win the Davis Cup."
They completed that career quest last December.
The Davis Cup was all but wrapped up in a red, white and blue bow after Andy Roddick and James Blake swept singles matches to move the Americans to within one win of winning the Cup that was born in the USA. America’s top singles stars turned the task of completing the Davis Cup quest to tennis’ top-ranked team.
Hurling their bodies around the court with the abandon of stunt men, the twins, whipped the 12,000 fans packed inside Portland's Memorial Coliseum into a chest-bumping, fist-pumping frenzy as they transformed a tennis match into an extended family reunion on court by bringing Dwight Davis' Cup back home.
It was both the culmination of a quest and the completion of a career’s worth of goals. The 30-year-old twins, whose 2006 Wimbledon triumph made them only the third team in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam, cite the Davis Cup championship as their most rewarding victory.
"You all know what's riding on the match. You got guys you want to win for," says left-handed Bob Bryan, the taller twin by one inch at 6-foot-4. "Winning the Davis Cup is the pinnacle of our career. The Davis Cup is so meaningful because we did it as a team and to have that celebration with the guys in Portland is something we’ll never forget. That’s the one that has the most pop: people see us it he airport and congratulate us and thank us for helping bring the Cup back home to America. That’s the win people really appreciate the most."
They flipped the switch from the days of chip-and-charge to doubles their brash crush-and-rush style in amping up the volume on the game. The brothers who play charity gigs together fronting The Bryan Brothers Band play tennis in the key of E in exuding exceptional effort and enthusiasm in each match.
The ITF has named them the Doubles World Champions for a record setting five years in a row, they have contested nine of the last 12 Grand Slam finals and they have ended four of the past five season as the world’s No. 1 team.So just how good are the Bryan brothers?
"They're the best team in this era," Hall of Famer Jim Courier says. "They're 30 years old and still at the top year after year. The interesting thing about doubles right now is most of the teams in the top 10 are over 30. We're seeing fewer greater teams at a younger age and that will help the Bryans as well because there's no team like them. Coming out of the juniors those guys were groomed for doubles success, they focused on it, worked toward it, they're very intense and their skill sets complement each other perfectly for doubles. Short of injury, I don't see anyone out there who can keep them from dominating for the next few years.
They have no plans on slowing down anytime soon.
"We feel we’re at our peak now and I don’t see us going anywhere anytime soon," says Mike Bryan, the older brother by two minutes. "We love what we do, we like our careers and we see you can play doubles until your mid 30s. We are some of the youngest guys still in the top 10 and we saw how long Todd Woodbridge played. If we stay healthy, we like to think we’ve got another five years left so there’s still a lot we want to accomplish and we’ll see how our bodies hold up."
The twins own 47 tournament titles which places them fourth on the list of doubles teams in the Open Era behind three of the greatest doubles teams of all time: John McEnroe and Peter Fleming and Bob Hewitt and Frew McMillan (57 titles) are tied for second behind the Open Era doubles leaders, Australia’s Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, who stand atop the all-time list with 61 career titles.
Can the Bryans, the first doubles team in Open Era history to reach seven straight major finals, eclipse the Woodies?
"As far as breaking the Woodies record there’s no question they can," say Darren Cahill, who coached both Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to the World No. 1 ranking. "They are two of the hardest working young men I've ever seen in singles or doubles. There’s no question they deserve to be at the top of the doubles rankings and they’ve got a lot of great tennis ahead."
John McEnroe, one of the men the Bryans are chasing on their persistent path toward tennis history, believes if the brothers stay healthy they will wind up winning the most titles of any doubles team in Open Era history.
"They could certainly go on and on because most of the top singles players don't play doubles anymore," McEnroe says. "And you've got a situation where the Bryan brothers are so committed to doubles, have been so successful and they seem to continue to improve. They play with a lot of energy, they keep positive and they never seem to argue with each other, which is amazing to me."
American tennis has suffered a bit of an identity crisis since the twins’ tennis idol, Andre Agassi, called it quits.
"It doesn’t take a genius to point the out problems," Agassi used to say when confronted with the annual "what’s wrong with American tennis?" question. "But creating solutions is much more difficult."
In many ways, the Bryan Brothers can serve as the solution: they are the poster boys for American player development program. Like the Williams sisters they have been bolstered by strong family support and bring an appetite for winning, an aptitude for improving and attitude of never backing down — the twins led the lawsuit that led to the ATP doubles reforms and once nearly came to blows with an opposing team in the locker room at the U.S. Open.
Both the brothers and sisters have been occasionally criticized for over-the-top style that skeptics say is over reliant on power and lacks finesse but in an era when title dialogues are being dominated by Spaniards, Swiss and Serbians, the Bryan Brothers and Williams sisters bring a toughness and togetherness and attitude that is exactly what aspiring American juniors should adopt.
Ultimately, the twins’ importance to tennis transcends their win-loss record. In the mind if the man many regard as the greatest doubles player ever, the twins born two minutes apart could create a rebirth for doubles.
"Doubles, in a way, is on life support," McEnroe says. "Doubles is like Davis Cup in that way that it doesn’t get the importance it deserves and it’s sad it’s become that way because most people who play tennis recreationally play doubles. But the fact that the Bryan brothers have been so successful and so dedicated to doubles and Davis Cup can draw attention to both, which is obviously important. They seem to be single handedly saving doubles."