By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Vienna, Austria – Beginning the 2008 season the way that the last had ended, Bob and Mike Bryan added another chapter to their growing Davis Cup legacy, clinching the winning point for the United States.
Again opening on the road, the defending champions won their third consecutive away tie.
“I think just mentally we're a much stronger team,” said Patrick McEnroe, who improved his record as team captain to 14-6.
“We're more confident and don't get rattled at all. The Bryans – I've never seen them get rattled ever.”
At the same time that the Bryan brothers were putting the finishing touches on clinching a first-round series in Vienna with a trademark chest-bump, their future quarterfinal opponent, France, was busy doing the same.
In Sibiu, Romania, the doubles team of Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra clinched the series in a five-set thriller, and booking them a trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., in April.
Routing Julian Knowle and Jurgen Melzer of Austria in an impressive 1 hour and 29 minutes, the Bryans had all facets of their game working Saturday, resulting in few answers from their weary opponents.
“It came pretty easy,” said Mike Bryan. “I think we broke the first game of each set, so we were never really under the gun and never felt big-time pressure. We knew this team was going to be tough and sustained the energy and aggressive mentality the whole way through.”
“It was a low-stress match for us, and that's the way we like it,” added Bob Bryan.
Carrying a nine-match winning streak into the quarterfinals, Bob and Mike Bryan are on a fast-track toward being considered as the greatest U.S. doubles pair of all-time.
At 14-1, the Bryans have equaled the mark set by two U.S. pairs. With 14 team wins apiece, John McEnroe and partner Peter Fleming, and Wilmer Allison and John Van Ryn have even more company at the top.
“It's a great honor to have one of the best records in Davis Cup just because we value Davis Cup a lot, and we put a hell of a lot of energy into it,” said Mike Bryan.
“We just pull our hat down and put our best stuff on the court. Luckily we're 14-1 and had some good fortune. I think we've played some of our best tennis in Davis Cup, which we're really proud of. Who knows, we might end up 14 and 13.”
“I doubt it. No way,” laughed McEnroe.
Dropping just two points in the first three games, the Bryans claimed the first set in just 24 minutes.
Jurgen Melzer was broken twice in the set and didn’t help his team's cause by smashing an overhead directly at Mike Bryan, producing a prolonged glare from the U.S. player.
Once the calling card of teammate Andy Roddick (9-0 when given the chance to clinch), the Bryans have clinched two ties in a row, including the 2007 Final in Portland, and three of the last four dating back to Winston-Salem last April.
“We come to play, no matter what the score is,” said Bob Bryan. “Doesn't really make a big difference for us, it's still a sleepless night for us. It's always great to be up 2-0 because it kind of changes the atmosphere of the whole tie. They're probably not as fired up, being down 0-2. Kind of takes the wind out of their sails a little bit.”
Wearing black socks paired with black shoes, the top-ranked twins kept the pressure on in the second and third sets, out-working their opponents and capitalizing on break-point opportunities.
“It's good for clay because you don't have to throw your socks away after,” said Mike Bryan. Fans at the Ferry Dusika Stadium may get to see the all-black ensemble again on Sunday.
Winners on Friday, James Blake (back) and Andy Roddick (knee) are nursing injuries. Also, having each played long matches, Bob and Mike could be thrust into the abbreviated two-of-three-set reverse singles.
While Bob (2-2) has some experience playing singles, Mike Bryan would be making his Davis Cup debut.
The United States’ quarterfinal opponent, France will travel to Winston-Salem’s Joel Coliseum, April 11-13, setting up a blockbuster best-of-five series with a berth in the World Group semifinals on the line.
The U.S. last played France six years ago in the 2002 Davis Cup semifinals, McEnroe’s second season as captain and a year before the Bryan brothers cemented their place on the team as doubles specialists.
Staged at the fabled crushed red clay of Roland Garros, a Sebastien Grosjean-led French team defeated the U.S., 3-2.
Down 0-2, Todd Martin and James Blake kept the U.S. alive with a five-set victory over Fabrice Santoro and Llodra in the doubles rubber.
Then, in Sunday’s decisive match, a then-19-year-old Andy Roddick fell to Grosjean on red clay in four sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Two members of that French team, Clement and Llodra, stand an excellent chance of being nominated to face the 14-1 Bryan twins later this year.
Young phenom Richard Gasquet and 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are expected to play singles for France against Roddick and Blake, producing intriguing potential match-ups.
“I think that it would be a tremendously exciting match because France has a great team and sort of great young players, obviously Tsonga with a great Australian Open,” said McEnroe. “They have an excellent doubles team.”
“So I think not only do they have a great team but great individual players and a lot of flair in their team. Playing in Winston-Salem, which is where we played Spain last year, was an incredible environment. We're hoping for the same kind of scene there this year.”
“We've got a little more experience than they do. I think there are some similarities. Llodra and Clement are one of the best teams in the world in doubles, and we've got the best team – makes it like every match could almost be like a Grand Slam semi or final.”
In 2007, the city of Winston-Salem hosted the tie between the U.S. and Spain. Behind a boisterous sold-out crowd, the Americans cruised to victory, 4-1.
Quarterfinal tickets are expected to go on sale to the general public the week of Feb. 25. For more info, call the U.S. Davis Cup hotline at (888) 484-8782 (USTA).
Ticket information and travel packages will be posted on USTA.com when they become available.