By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON -- The first time that Mike and Bob Bryan played Wimbledon, 14 years ago, the twins were deemed arrogant rookies by an elder team. In 2006, en route to winning their first title at the All England Club, they got into a fistfight in the car that eventually led to Bob smashing one of Mike’s guitars.
The 35-year-olds achieved their historic "Bryan Brothers Golden Slam" on Saturday, besting Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, at Wimbledon. After the match, they sat back in their chairs -- now two mature, married gentlemen who have the tennis world at their feet.
"It's hard to even dream that we'd have the Slam, all four at one time," said Mike. "It all started back after we won the [2012 London Olympics gold medal]. It just felt like a huge pressure was released. We went on to win the [US] Open and had a great summer. This year we've been on an amazing tear. Never had a streak like this. Especially at 35, I feel like we're hitting our peak."
The Bryans title run at Wimbledon was their 15th Grand Slam championship overall, which is a record. They became the first team to hold all four major titles and the Olympic gold medal at the same time.
"In the context of our career, it’s probably up there at the top," said Bob of the achievement. "I didn't think anything could feel as sweet as the gold medal, but this one just feels like there's a cap, a lid, or a ribbon around our career. It's pretty cool. It's something we never dreamed of, to try to win four in a row. It's too hard to dominate in doubles."
The victory did not come easy as the Croatian/Brazilian team got off to a red-hot start, racing out a to a 5-0 lead. The Bryans were admittedly nervous, with Mike even whiffing a volley. But they clawed back to 5-3. Even though the end up losing the opening set, they felt in control again.
From then on, they looked like the controlled and fierce team that has dominated the sport for nearly a decade. They served big and precisely, controlled play around the net, nailed some key returns and were advantageous when they had a chance to rip a passing shot.
They broke Dodig and Melo to 5-4 in the fourth set after a rapid-fire exchange that ended up with the right-handed Mike pasting a forehand winner down the middle. Then the left-handed Bob served it out, ending the contest with two aces that kissed the lines. The two leaped up into the air and performed their signature chest bump.
"Everything now feels like a bonus," said Bob. "It just feels like we're adding nuts and whipped cream and cherries to our great career."
The twins have been great storytellers since the time they came out of Stanford in 1998. At 1999 Wimbledon, they were facing former U.S. doubles standout Alex O’Brien and Canada’s Sebastien Lareau in a match that went over three days due to rain, which they ended up losing 10-8 in the fifth set.
"We were chest bumping. We were young," Mike recalled. "Showing no respect for the older guys. There were about 20 rain delays where we came back to the locker room. We were sitting right next to them. There were words said. They wanted to kill us basically."
Mike recalled that the veteran duo called them "cocky punks". Bob remembered they said, "Going to kill you. It was just the veterans giving the younger guys some heat. We deserved it. We were bouncing around and doing our thing. We were only 20 years old at the time."
In 2006, they barely edged the duo of Amer Delic and Jordan Kerr, 11-9 in the fifth set in the first round, and it all broke loose in the car when leaving the grounds. Mike told Bob he should have served a little better. Bob took it personally and said something about Mike’s forehand. Then Mike said something back.
"It just got worse and worse," said Mike. "I just said, ‘I hate you,’ or something. Then he just gives me a little hit, then I give him a [little slap on the head], and it just erupts into a full-blown brawl."
Once out of the car and into the house they were renting at the time, Bob chased Mike into the bathroom, where Mike locked himself in. After a failed attempt to batter down the door, Bob found another way to get even with Mike. "I saw his shiny guitar. I picked it up and just splintered it. That felt good, and that was the end of it," said Bob.
Just like two identical twins who were born minutes apart, they made up quickly. Mike waited until it was quiet. "I go downstairs and he's eating," he recalled. "I pull up a chair and start eating dinner."
Looking ahead, the Bryans have a full summer schedule of Emirates Airline US Open Series tournaments before they head to New York and the US Open to try and write more history: They have a chance to become just the second men's doubles team in history, after Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman in 1951, to win a calendar-year Grand Slam.
Townsend Falls in Final
Young American Taylor Townsend came up just short in the Wimbledon girls' singles final on Saturday, falling to top seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Townsend, 17, was attempting to add the Wimbledon title to the Australian Open girls' singles title she won in 2012. She also won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open girls' doubles titles a year ago en route to finishing as the year-end junior No. 1.