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Champions and Saviors 08/02/2010 - 12:11 AM


by Pete Bodo

Twins Bob and Mike Bryan established a new record for pro tour doubles titles Sunday at the Farmers Classic tournament in Los Angeles, earning the 62nd tournament win of their distinguished career in their 100th final. Their tally includes eight Grand Slam wins (they've been most prolific at the Australian Open, where they've won four times), but as recently as last night they were already plotting how to bag more.

"We're not at an age when our games are slipping, or our health is questionable," Mike Bryan, the first-born (by two minutes) of the 32-year old twins told me, about eight hours after his record-breaking triumph. He was still wearing his match clothes, and had just finished a "whirlwind" of appearances and interviews. Mike was about to hop into the shower before heading over to a celebratory barbecue and party at a neighbor's home in Camarillo, Calif. "Maybe we can hunt down a few more Grand Slams, help keep the U.S. in the Davis Cup World Group...that kind of stuff. We're not going anywhere anytime soon."

This is a good thing for tennis, and particularly the sometimes beleaguered game of doubles, which was saved almost double-handedly by the chest-bumping, serve-thumping twin brothers.

Certain players are not just high achievers; they stand as transformational figures who helped the game grow and ford the torrents placed in its way by history. Jimmy Connors was a transformational figure, injecting blue-collar appeal (or is it appeal to blue collars?) into a nascent pro game starting in the early 1970s. Martina Navratilova was a transformational figure, setting a new standard for fitness and dedication for women tennis professionals. Venus and Serena Williams also transformed the game, implanting a consciousness of tennis in a vast swath of people who had previously been indifferent to the game. Andre Agassi reached out and touched young spectators like few pros, even prodigies, before him.

You can add the Bryans to that list, and for a more concrete reason. They came of age at a time when it was by no means certain that doubles would continue to exist. In the early years of this millennium, just as the Bryans were coming into their own as a dedicated doubles team, turgid economic conditions in tennis spawned a movement, supported by many tournament directors and tennis officials, to kill doubles. The pros who specialized in doubles were living in a kind of welfare state, clogging player lounges, sucking up hotel rooms (paid for by the tournaments), and collecting fat checks without bringing a great deal to the table.

The Bryans brought an entirely new level of dedication and passion to doubles, serving as competitors as well as advocates and impresarios. Their extreme work ethic and unapologetic zest for the game opened eyes and demanded respect as well as attention. Thus, when tennis officials toyed with the idea of emasculating doubles to the point where the game would be nothing more than tournament filler, the Bryans led the charge to save doubles. Their record and commitment to doubles cloaked them with credibilityand gave them a platformthat could not be ignored by men like Etienne de Villiers, who became the ATP tour CEO at a bleak time for doubles, in 2005.

With tournament directors claiming that the doubles obligation (it was part of every promoter's basic contract with the ATP tour) was onerous on one hand and an insurgency led by the Bryan brothers on the other, de Villiers came down on the side of doubles players. "He was our big savior," Mike told me. "He saw that there was a really nasty controversy brewing, and that we weren't going to back down. We weren't going to let them drive doubles out of existence. So he decided that we just needed to come up with some new approach to doubles, which included some changes in the rules and regulations." That included the embrace of the somewhat controversial match-tiebreaker that is now played instead of a decisive third set.

103194251 De Villiers was the decision-maker, but the Bryans were the unit that gave him something like moral authority. For Mike and Bob had re-energized competition in doubles, which resulted in the ensuing years in a rise in the quality of the game. As Mike said, "It was a painful process, but a lot of the fat that once existed in doubles was trimmed away. Today, there just aren't many guys out partying, taking those big first-round checks and free hotel rooms, living the life.... Those days are gone. The tour today is way too tough. You know these guys are serious when you see them traveling with their personal trainers, a masseuse, a regular entourage." (That's Kathy Bryan, mother of the twins, in the photo at right).

During the trophy presentation after the Bryans earned their record with a tense, 7-6 (6), 6-2, 10-7 victory over Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer, Butorac said, "You guys are the reason we have jobs."

"That made me feel great," Mike said. "We think that today doubles is a strong game. When we see a couple of juniors doing a chest bump, or some kid comes up to tell us that he and his partner just won a junior doubles event, we take pride in that. Right now, there are no low-skill doubles players around, and with the singles players playing more doubles, the game keeps getting betterand we need to keep improving as well."

The mark the Bryans shattered today was set by Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, the team known throughout tennis as "the Woodies." Woodforde was present all week at the Farmers Classic, which pleased the Bryans ("It was nice of Mark to be there," Mike said. "We hung out quite a bit with him, and he was right there, pushing us through to the finish line"). 

In his own post-match remarks, Woodforde said, "I know you two will continue for years to come. The floodgates will open entirely, so I know 70, 80 will come."

No matter how many titles the Bryans end up with, the achievement will not really overshadow the fact that they were not only great at the game they loved, but they also helped save it.

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Posted by zenggi 08/02/2010 at 12:30 AM

Congratulations to Bob and Mike for this achievement!

To celebrate it K-Swiss has promised them a 10-day vacation each to any spot in the whole world. Nice.

Posted by Jenn 08/02/2010 at 12:54 AM

Congratulations to the Bryan brothers, and I'm glad they were able to break the record here in our LA Tournament before a hometown crowd. Beth and I attended their match on Thursday night.

Pete, I have been reading - and enjoying - "Hard Court Confidential" and there are so many funny anecdotes about Bob and Mike in there that I find myself much more interested in their tennis. We will need them if we are going to climb back into the Davis Cup hunt, no doubt.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President.I'am Back and I Am Taking No Prisoners! 08/02/2010 at 03:20 AM

Pete. Well coming from Down Under and being a fan of The Woodies

I congratulate Bob and Mike on a remarkable record

I am glad I was around to see it

Well done Bob and Mike!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by embug 08/02/2010 at 08:08 AM

They are the best. Thanks, Pete, for writing about them. They deserve all the kudos they get. Can't wait to watch them this week in DC.

Posted by Master Ace 08/02/2010 at 08:21 AM

Bryans 62 Titles (8 Slams - 15 Master Shields - 3 Year End Championships)

Australian Open - 2006,2007,2009,2010
French Open - 2003
Wimbledon - 2006
United States Open - 2005,2008

Year End Championships - 2003,2004,2009

Indian Wells - Never won
Miami - 2007,2008
Monte Carlo - 2007
Rome - 2008,2010
Hamburg – 2007
Madrid(clay) - 2010
Canada - 2002,2006
Cincinnati - 2003,2008
Madrid(hard) - 2006,2007
Paris - 2005,2007

Posted by Ruth 08/02/2010 at 09:00 AM

That is an impressive achievement! Thanks for the details, Master Ace.

And good luck to Bob and Mike as they continue to carry the standard in doubles play. A stop at one of their matches is always a must-do/must-see during my annual visit to the USO, and I am looking forward to giving them an extra round of applause this year.

Posted by vv_varaiya 08/02/2010 at 09:37 AM

A class act despite being Stanford :-) grads (Go Bears!). Their success flows from their enthusiasm, dedication and hard work. I remember when they first came on the scene, they challenged Patrick and John McEnroe to an exhibition to raise money for Stanford (which Mc's wisely declined).

Posted by pschwarztennis 08/02/2010 at 09:43 AM

With the men's singles game becoming more and more of an abstraction to many of us middle -aged guys who just can't whomp the groundies for two hours any more, the Bryan's have given us something we can relate to, watch and learn from... and needless to say, if it weren't for them, no doubles on TV at all except for odd hours on TTC ... so thanks, fellas ... I'll be there at Newport when you go in ....

Posted by Master Ace 08/02/2010 at 10:53 AM

Bryans(38-8) will be going for their 63rd title as they play in Washington. This will be their first trip back since they won their 3rd consecutive title in 2007. As we know, they will be playing the Toronto/Cincinnati swing after this week so they feel that 4 consective weeks will help them prepare in their quest of a 3rd USO title. Also, Washington will represent the return of Nestor/Zimonjic(37-9)who has not played since getting upset in Wimbledon. Also, we have the teams of Berdych/Stepanek,(who will play Nestor/Zimonjic in first round), Isner/Querrey, Lindstedt/Tecau(finalist at Wimbledon), Fish/Knowles, Fyrstenberg/Matkowski, who give the Bryans trouble, and Benneteau/Llodra.

ATP Doubles Draw:

Posted by CL/Hold the Foam 08/02/2010 at 11:10 AM

That's interesting about the 'each' getting a vacation. I wonder if they will go together? I had the sense from that NY Times article a year ago about the Bryan Brothers, ( that they were both trying to carve out more individual lives for themselves and yet still totally tied as twins.

Posted by Arun 08/02/2010 at 11:48 AM

Thank you for this one, Pete.
I'm glad they got their record, especially in LA.
I know Zestor is the more popular dubs team around these parts. ;)
But I think the Bryans deserve every bit of attention/respect they receive for what they have brought to ATP Dubs (plus their on-court achievements).

Props to Woodforde for pulling a Sampras.

Posted by pov 08/02/2010 at 11:52 AM

I'm not really a fan of doubles yet of course the Bryans are close to a household name. Good to see them get this record and good to read how much they've done for the sport.

Posted by beth 08/02/2010 at 12:13 PM

Congrats to the Bryan Brothers on their record breaking achievement .
They have done so much for the game of doubles - and even though I think they take the "twindom" thing to extreme - it cannot be denied that on the court they are two people moving and acting as one . Their court coverage and the way they blanket the net is text book stuff . Wish I could do that with a partner !
( course , I would need to be about a foot taller :))

Saturday , I saw them play again - and they won pretty easily - then they sang Happy Birthday to their grama - Alice Bryant - who was in one of the luxury boxes to watch their match. It was really cute .

Posted by Jay 08/02/2010 at 01:21 PM

Add my congrats to the Bryans!! They represent the sport, and particularly doubles tennis in the best way.

It would be great to have one superstar doubles-only invitational, where the best teams (including top individual players who might team-up), both men and women would go at it for one weekend, round-robin. Unlike the year-end tourneys where the best singles players are not usually in the doubles mix (exception: Venus and Serena). The possibilities would be tantalizing (imagine Fedal!). I think that the Bryans would still have a great chance of being the best mens duo--their gifts are so complementary to each other.

Thanks MasterAce for writing-up the Legg Mason doubles scenario--its my hometown tournament, and you've reminded me to take doubles into consideration when I decide which days to sit out there.

Posted by Master Ace 08/02/2010 at 01:29 PM

You are welcome for that write up. Doubles do not get the attention that it deserves and the Bryans have helped tremendously in that aspect. Even though I feel that doubles need to be either no-ad with a deciding set or a supertiebreak in the deciding set with ad scoring, having no-ad scoring and a supertiebreak has done well and the normal match under this scneario does not less no longer than 90 minutes which also made it easy for tournaments to decide to have their finals before or after the match.

Posted by gliciouss 08/02/2010 at 01:47 PM

aparently azarenka has withdrawn...stosur has a good chance at the title i would say

Posted by Rusty 08/02/2010 at 02:10 PM

Really happy for the Bryans. I saw them win the WTF final at the O2 last year and thought they were brilliant - so entertaining to watch the way they move around the court at exactly the same moment, I immediately dubbed them Tweedledum and Tweedledee! Hope they'll be around for a lot longer.

Posted by Master Ace 08/02/2010 at 02:38 PM

I knew that Victoria would w/d due to playing more matches than expected that was capped off with a title. Good move on her part as Cincinnati/Montreal swing start next week with Kim and Venus returning to action.

Posted by Jay 08/02/2010 at 03:08 PM

Master Ace: I totally agree!

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 08/02/2010 at 06:18 PM

That's a wonderful record for Mike and Bob. Congratulations to them. They're very entertaining guys as well as great great dubs players. Last year 60minutes did a segment on them and they both totally copped to the ubertwin weirdness factor. They admitted that they are super super close and understand that they may be perceived as
'different.' If I recall correctly they were going to try living apart for the first time in their lives. I've often wondered what it would be like to have an identical version of myself out there. boggles the mind actually. Is it really such a big deal if they want to live together as adults?

Posted by Narciso L. Alanio 08/04/2010 at 04:52 AM

Pete, you have miserably forgotten the magnificent Chris Evert, she transformed the game by showing everyone that you can be Champion and beautiful and reserved at the same time. She and Jimmy was the biggest attraction during their time.

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