Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oh, brother – Mike Bryan drills Bob with ball

Mike Bryan (left) and Bob Bryan (right) of the Texas Wild watch
players warm up between sets with their father, Sacramento
Capitals coach Wayne Bryan. Photo by Paul Bauman
   CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. – Take heart, club players.
   Even Bob and Mike Bryan, generally considered the greatest men's doubles team in history, have their embarrassing moments on the court.
   With the 35-year-old identical twins playing men's doubles for the Texas Wild against the Sacramento Capitals tonight in a World TeamTennis match, Mike drilled Bob squarely on the left ear with a forehand. Mike was in the backcourt on the ad side, and Bob was at the net on the deuce side. After the mishap, Bob gave Mike a playful kick in the rear end.
   "I can't remember the last time he did that," said Bob, who was not seriously hurt. "Usually, he knows where I'm going. He sees me there and goes around me, but he lined me up and took my ear off.
   "It didn't feel good. I'd rather get hit on the head. The ear is kind of sensitive."
   Added Bob, who plays in a band with his brother: "I'm already pretty deaf from all the music we've played in our lives. Now I'm really deaf. My ear is still buzzing. I'll get him back."
   The rest of the night, the Bryans were brilliant, as usual. They won the two sets in which one or both played, leading Texas to a 22-19 victory before an announced crowd of 1,886 at 2,134-seat Capitals Stadium. The Capitals have lost five straight matches after winning their first three.
Bob Bryan (left) and Mike Bryan watch the women's singles
set at Capitals Stadium. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The Bryans defeated Mark Knowles and Ryan Sweeting 5-3 in men's doubles to give Texas (5-4) a 14-11 lead at intermission. Sacramento pulled even at 17-17 in the first game of the final set, mixed doubles, but Bob Bryan and Eugenie Bouchard beat Knowles and Olga Govortsova 5-3 for the overall victory.  
   The Bryans grew up in Camarillo in the Los Angeles area and live in Florida, where there is no state income tax. But they are no strangers to Northern California. They played at Stanford in 1997 and 1998, leading the Cardinal to two NCAA titles and winning the 1998 NCAA doubles crown.
  The twins also have played against their father, Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, several times in WTT matches in the Sacramento area.
   Curiously, the Bryans never won the title in San Jose, 25 minutes down Highway 101 from Stanford, in 10 attempts. They reached the final only once, losing to Scott Lipsky and David Martin, who arrived at Stanford one and two years, respectively, after the Bryans left.
Mike Bryan (left) and Bob Bryan pose with Capitals owners
Betsy and Deepal Wannakuwatte while signing autographs
after tonight's match. Photo by Paul Bauman
   It appears the Bryans never will win a title in the San Francisco Bay Area, as the San Jose tournament will be replaced on the calendar by Rio de Janeiro beginning next year.
   The Bryans have won just about everything else. They have captured a record 15 Grand Slam men's doubles titles, including the last four; their first Olympic gold medal last year; and a Davis Cup championship in 2007. Earlier this month at Wimbledon, they became the first team to hold all four Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.
   With nine titles overall  this year, the Bryans are on pace to shatter their career high of 11 in 2007 and 2010. They have won 24 straight matches with championships at Madrid, Rome, the French Open, Queen's Club in London and Wimbledon. The first three titles were on clay and the last two on grass. The last team to beat them was Julien Benneteau of France and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia in the Monte Carlo final in April. 
   "At 35, we have a lot of experience," Bob explained. "We know our bodies well, we know what works on the tour, how to practice, now to prepare, how to recover. It's a combination of that as well as winning the gold medal. That released a lot of pressure. It's really made the tour enjoyable for us. We're having a great time, we're playing with a smile on our face, and we feel like we've done it all and the rest of our career is just kind of icing on the cake."
   Also, many of the Bryans' top rivals have either broken up as a team, are approaching retirement or both. The twins have said they will play at least through the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when they'll be 38. Canada's Daniel Nestor, who has won eight Grand Slam men's doubles titles, remains active at 40. 
    "We're always licking our chops when a lot of the great tandems split up at the end of the year," Mike Bryan said, "because we know we're sticking together and can build on a year-to-year basis. It takes time to develop chemistry and a good partnership."
   By winning the U.S. Open, Aug. 26-Sept. 9, the Bryans would become the first team to win a calendar-year Grand Slam since Australians Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor 62 years ago.
   "We'd love to win the U.S. Open for the fifth time, and with that goes a calendar-year Grand Slam," Bob Bryan said. "It would be amazing, another great achievement. It would probably be our greatest achievement."
   Said Mike: "It would go down in the history books. It's really hard to do as doubles players. Both of us have to be healthy, and doubles is tough to dominate because the margins are so small. If one guy loses his service game, you can potentially lose the match.
   "We're going to let this non-calendar-year Grand Slam sink in a little bit, enjoy it, and once the U.S. Open comes around, really go after it."
   The Bryans scoff at the notion that their record is inflated because the top singles players rarely play doubles. They say they would fare well against a team of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The matchup would be all the more tantalizing because of the right-left pairings. Mike Bryan and Federer are right-handed, and Bob Bryan and Nadal are left-handed
   :"We're 5-3 against Federer and 4-0 against Nadal (separately in doubles)," Bob Bryan said. "They're great players, but singles and doubles are two different sports. They need a completely different skill set. They need different types of returns, they need different types of serves, quick hands, and the fast feet at the net are something the singles players don't really have a chance to get used to unless they're doing a lot of it.
   "We like our chances. We obviously have a lot of respect for those guys. They're two of our heroes, and what they do on and off the court is really breathtaking. It would be nice to have an exhibition one day, but I doubt we're going to see that in a tour-level match anytime soon."
   It's not as Federer and Nadal can't play doubles, though. Federer won the 2008 Olympic gold medal with  Swiss teammate Stanislaus Wawrinka. Nadal is 3-0 in doubles finals in Masters series tournaments, the top level after the Grand Slams. 
    Nor do the Bryans buy John McEnroe's argument that he and Peter Fleming were better because they won 70 percent of their Grand Slam finals (seven of 10 from 1979 to 1984) to the Bryans' 60 percent (15 of 25). Indeed, it's hard to fathom how reaching 15 more major finals is a negative.
   "We like our numbers compared to the other teams' numbers," Mike Bryan said. "It's not for us to say who's the better team ... different eras, different competition, different rackets, different balls, courts."
   Added Bob: "The game evolves over time. We feel like doubles is at its toughest now. You have a great combination of singles players and doubles players playing different styles. It's a real big power game now with a lot of poaching, and the strategy of doubles has really been taken to a new level in the last 10 years."
   Even though most recreational players play doubles, it receives little exposure on television because of the top singles players' absence. They don't need the money, and it detracts from their singles.
   Bob Bryan, though, said doubles' second-class status doesn't bother him. After all, he and Mike have each earned more than $10 million in prize money, not to mention endorsements.  
   "We've created a great niche in the sport," Bob said. "We've created great lives for ourselves, and we're very happy with the way our career has gone. We play in front of sold-out crowds all over. We couldn't ask for any more."
In Citrus Heights, Calif.
   Men's singles -- Alex Bogomolov Jr. (Texas) def. Ryan Sweeting, 5-3.
   Women's singles -- Olga Govortsova (Capitals) def. Eugenie Bouchard, 5-4 (5-3 tiebreaker).
   Men's doubles -- Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan (Texas) def. Mark Knowles and Sweeting, 5-3.
   Women's doubles -- Govortsova and Megan Moulton-Levy (Capitals) def. Bouchard and Darija Jurak, 5-3.
   Mixed doubles -- Bouchard and Bob Bryan (Texas) def. Knowles and Govortsova, 5-3.

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