Bryans Come Full Circle In Los Angeles
by Alison Kim|
Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan have been the face of ATP World Tour doubles for much of the past decade, and now, the Americans stand above the greatest pairs to have played the game as the all-time team titles leaders.
In a full-circle moment, the 32-year-old twins contested their 100th final on the same court they first stepped on at six years of age and clinched their record-breaking 62nd title in Los Angeles Sunday, surpassing the mark previously held by the Hall of Fame pairing of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
“Sixty two brings a smile to our face," Bob said. "It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible... I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career."
Woodforde was in Los Angeles to commemorate the historic achievement, and paid tribute to the Bryans on court after the final. "For many, many years you've been traveling in elite company. Thanks to the victory today you're in rarefied air," Woodforde said. "You guys stand together as one. I know this 62nd victory has been waiting since May. Our run sort of ended because I elected to retire, but I know you two will continue for years to come. The floodgates will open entirely, so I know 70, 80 will come."
In contrast to the preeminent team of the 1990s, who played both singles and doubles on a weekly basis, Bob and Mike made a conscious decision early in their professional careers to specialise in doubles. They shared a couple dreams - of playing at the Olympics and representing the U.S in Davis Cup action - and believed that being the No. 1 team would bring greater opportunities than a Top 100 singles ranking.
Just six months after the Woodies won their 61st and final team title, the Bryans hoisted their first trophy in Memphis, beginning a ritual that would become all too familiar on the ATP World Tour.
Over the past nine years, the twins have averaged six titles a season, highlighted by an impressive 11-title haul in 2007. Of their 62 titles, 26 have come on the game's biggest stages - eight at Grand Slam championships, 15 at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, and three at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Last season, they won the season-ending championships to clinch the ATP World Tour Doubles Champion title for the fifth time - tying the Woodies' mark for most year-end No. 1 finishes.
The twins have the makings of a dream doubles team - left-hander Bob has a huge first serve and a world-class forehand while right-sided Mike boasts explosive returns - and have had years of practice to sharpen their doubles skills. As Corina Morariu, a former World No. 1 doubles player on the WTA Tour, once joked: "You could have been playing doubles your whole life and you'd still have been together nine months less than Mike and Bob."
"Doubles is a game where there are so many facets, so many shots you have to learn, so much strategy that it takes a long time to develop into a great doubles player," said Mike. "We've been working on doubles, not just singles, since such a young age and have developed a lot of skills that you need to be great doubles players. Overall our games really complement each other."
Their instinctual ability to read each other also gives the Bryans a distinct edge over their competitors. “Their biggest thing is they know what each other’s thinking obviously, John McEnroe told 60 Minutes. “There’s places on the court where people aren’t sure who’s going to take the ball and they just seem to do that naturally.”
Much has been written of the Bryans' tight relationship and inseparability, how they live together, share the same bank account and e-mail address, play in the same rock band, and can count the limited number of weeks they've been apart. In reality, it's a factor that is integral to their success. While the revolving door of doubles continuously shutters in new tandems, the Bryans remain a constant, making them the most marketable team on the tour.
Over the past few years, the Bryans have rung the opening bell at the NYSE and been featured in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, 60 Minutes, The New Yorker and People Magazine. It may be considered a perk of their on-court success, but the Americans view it as a responsibility to fuel interest and visibility in the doubles game.
"One of our goals is to see doubles thrive," said Mike. "By doing well and winning a couple Grand Slams, being No. 1, it does help doubles."
Fellow American James Blake said: "Those guys are sure-fire Hall Of Famers. They have an excitement level on the court and the fans appreciate it. It's such a unique opportunity to see twins play that well with complementing styles of plays and abilities. They've beaten up on me a few times so I know how good they are. I dread playing them but I love watching them when they're on my Davis Cup team. They just punish people. It's a lot of fun to watch from the sidelines."
Given that the 32-year-old Bryans show no sign of slowing down, it’s not unthinkable that they could approach 100 titles before they’re done, establishing a standard that may stand the test of time. “They could reach 80 or 90 titles easily,” said rival and friend Daniel Nestor.
Mike said: "It was never our goal to be considered one of the greatest teams to ever play. You always dream of playing on the pro tour, hopefully winning Grand Slams, of being No. 1; it's achievable, but you never think you're actually going to do it."