Sunday, December 22, 2013

Top 10 stories: Bryans highlight incredible NorCal year

Mike, left, and Bob Bryan of the visiting Texas Wild and their
father, Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan, watch
players warm up before a World TeamTennis match in July.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   The debate rages.
   Are Bob and Mike Bryan the greatest men's doubles team of all time?
   The identical twins and former Stanford stars had the best year of their illustrious career in 2013 at 35 years old, coming within two match victories of a calendar-year Grand Slam. That has been accomplished only once in men's doubles, by Australians Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman in 1951.
   The Bryans' Australian Open title in January broke the career record of 12 Grand Slam crowns in men's doubles by Aussies John Newcombe and Tony Roche from 1965 through 1976. So that makes the Bryans, who highlighted an incredible year in Northern California tennis (see below for the top 10 stories), the best men's doubles team ever, right?
   Not according to former partners John McEnroe and Peter Fleming.
   "What people forget is that we played 10 Grand Slam doubles (finals), and we won seven (1979-84)," McEnroe told Peter Bodo of Tennis magazine in May. "Before they start telling everyone how great the Bryan brothers are, look at some of those numbers. It's like people think we'd be afraid to go out there with them. That's what's weird about it."
   McEnroe and Fleming won four Wimbledon and three U.S. Open crowns. Top players generally didn't compete in the Australian Open during their era because it was played in December.
   The Bryans, meanwhile, have won 15 of their 26 (.577) Grand Slam men's doubles finals, collecting six Australian Open, two French Open, three Wimbledon and four U.S. Open titles. They have said they'll play through the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
   McEnroe and Fleming also contend that they faced tougher competition, such as former No. 1 singles players Stan Smith and Newcombe.
   “I hear 'the greatest doubles players of all time -- the Bryan brothers,' and it’s, ‘Excuse me?’ Fleming said on earlier this month. "I find that comment unbelievable.”
   Bob Bryan, in an exclusive interview with NorCal Tennis Czar in July, countered that he and Mike are 5-3 against Roger Federer and 4-0 against Rafael Nadal separately in doubles.
    "They're great players, but singles and doubles are two different sports," Bob Bryan said. "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 (against Federer and Nadal in doubles). 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 (encounter) in a tour-level match anytime soon."
   Federer and Nadal rarely play doubles, but Federer won the 2008 Olympic gold medal with Swiss teammate Stanislas Wawrinka, and Nadal has captured Indian Wells twice with fellow Spaniard Marc Lopez.
   Here are the top 10 stories of the year in NorCal tennis as determined by a highly scientific survey (consisting of my deliberating for a few minutes):
   1. Bryans break career Grand Slam men's doubles record.
   2. Bryans come close to calendar-year Grand Slam in men's doubles.
   3. Three juniors from Sacramento academy win national titles. On back-to-back days in August, Collin Altamirano and Jenson Brooksby of the JMG Tennis Academy won singles titles in the USTA National Championships in the boys 18s in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the boys 12s in Little Rock, Ark., respectively. Altamirano, 17, became the first unseeded player in the 71-year history of the boys 18s to win the crown. In October, 8-year-old Priya Nelson took the girls 8 title at the Little Mo Nationals in Austin, Texas.
   4. Freshman with artificial arm plays for Division I college. New Zealand's Thomas Alexander Hunt plays No. 6 singles for Saint Mary's in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Moraga.
   5. Former world No. 20 returns from cancer. Alisa Kleybanova of Russia reaches the quarterfinals of the $50,000 FSP Gold River Women's Challenger as a qualifier in the third tournament of her comeback from cancer.
   6. Raonic makes history in last SAP Open. Milos Raonic of Canada becomes the first man since Tony Trabert (1953-55) to win three straight titles in the San Francisco Bay Area tournament. The SAP Open in San Jose will move to Memphis, which lost its tournament to Rio de Janeiro, in February after 125 years in Northern California.
   7. Cibulkova avenges shutout loss for title. After losing to Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-0 in the Sydney final in January, Dominika Cibulkova stuns the Polish star 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to win the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford.
   8. Ahn lifts Stanford women to NCAA title. Junior Kristie Ahn wins the deciding match in three sets as No. 12 Stanford edges No. 3 Texas A&M 4-3 to become the lowest seed to capture the NCAA women's title.
   9. Stanford's Gibbs repeats as NCAA singles champ. Nicole Gibbs becomes the first woman to win two straight NCAA singles titles since the Cardinal's Amber Liu in 1993 and 1994.
   10. Ex-Stanford star enters collegiate Hall of Fame. Paul Goldstein, who starred on four NCAA championship teams at Stanford (1995-98), is inducted in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men's Hall of Fame.
   Honorable mention -- Dmitry Tursunov, a Russian based in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, returns to the top 30 in the world for the first time in more than four years.
   --Mackenzie McDonald, 18, of Piedmont in the Bay Area becomes the first unranked teenager to qualify for an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, the highest level for men besides the Grand Slams.
  --Atherton's CiCi Bellis, who turned 14 on April 8, wins singles titles in the Easter Bowl girls 16s, USTA National Clay Court 16s and USTA National Grass Court 18s.
   --Adriana Perez of Venezuela saves two match points in the first round and three in the second round en route to the title in the $25,000 Redding Women's Challenger.
   --Mayo Hibi, a 17-year-old Irvine resident who plays for her native Japan, defeats Madison Brengle to win the Gold River Challenger after trailing 4-0 and 5-1 and saving nine set points in the first set. 
   --Jessica Lawrence's three-set victory over Yasmin Schack of Elk Grove in the Sacramento area in the second round of qualifying for the Gold River Challenger begins with 18 consecutive service breaks and features 25 total.
   --The Stanford men lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their 35 appearances. 

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