RELATED: Bob Bryan Player ProfileRELATED: Mike Bryan Player Profile
By Matthew Cronin, special to USTA.com
Ten years from now, the Bryan twins might walk off court in their last match and be lauded as the best tandem ever.
The 29-year-old Camarillo, California natives are 17 titles behind all-time leaders Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (the “Woodies”), who own 61 crowns, and in Davis Cup, the Bryans own 12 wins, just one behind the No. 3 team of Stan Smith/Bob Lutz, and two behind co-leaders Wilmer Allison/John Van Ryn and John McEnroe/Peter Fleming.
But as Bob Bryan told USTA.com, thinking about he and his brother Mike's history is something best reserved for a quiet day during the off-season.
Now, the only thing that matters is helping lead the US to its first Davis Cup crown since 1995 when America faces Russia in the final, Nov. 30 - Dec. 2 in Portland.
“It's everything,” Bob said. “There's no other tennis achievement on the planet that we'd rather have, not a Grand Slam in doubles, not the Olympic gold. It's ahead of everything that's out there and if we accomplish it, we could die forever happy.”
The Bryans Davis Cup lore stretches back to 1990, when their father and then coach Wayne (a former pro who is now one of the sport's most enthusiastic promoters), took the boys to a first round US-Mexico Davis Cup in Carlsbad, CA.
Just before they walked on court and clinched the tie over Leonardo Lavalle/Jorge Lozano 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-1, then US doubles duo of Rick Leach and Jim Pugh stopped to talk to twins.
“Ricky is such a class guy,” Bob said. “Even though he had a big match coming up, he came up to us and asked us how we had done in a tournament the week before. We had known his family for along time, but he didn't have to do that. He's just like Roger Federer - no pretension off court.”
Already top junior players, the Bryans were already hooked on pro tennis and had their room adorned with posters of the worlds' greatest players, especially US Davis Cup warrior Andre Agassi. But that performance by Leach and Pugh hooked them on the competition.
“It’s definitely inspired us to love Davis Cup,” Bob said.
The Bryans not only love playing for their country, they excel at it, owning a remarkable 12-1 record, their sole loss coming to Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic back in 2004 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.
They have become the anchor for US Captain Patrick McEnroe and their good buddies, singles players Andy Roddick and James Blake. Since McEnroe made the decision in the fall of 2003 to go with a strictly doubles pairing rather than having a third singles player team with a doubles specialist (neither of the Bryans compete in singles on tour), the Bryans have made him look like a genius.
Unlike some other top singles players from other countries, Roddick and Blake never have to worry about being called to duty on Saturday. They've repeatedly said that they feel like the twins are a lock to win their matches, so they can merely sit back and enjoy the proceedings.
Bob says that the last time the brothers became really nervous was in their first match in 2003, which was played away on clay against the Slovak Republic's Karol Beck and Dominik Hrbaty.
“We had fought hard to get on the team and we wanted to show Patrick that he made the right choice, so we didn't want to blow it by losing,” Bob said. “But he took all the pressure off us because he called us in and said, 'Don't worry about it, you are my team for the next 10 years.'”
The Bryans whipped the Slovaks in straight sets and since then, have beaten a slew of good teams on every surface in every type of condition.
This year, the world's top ranked team took out the Czech team of Lukas Dlouhy and Pavel Vizner 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the US's 4-1 victory in the first round in Ostrava on indoor clay, a notable win considering that Dlouhy and Vizner won 2006 Roland Garros, upsetting the Bryans in the quarters.
In the US's 4-1 quarterfinal victory over Spain in Winston-Salem, N.C., on an indoor hard court, the Bryans cooled off the hot serving of Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5).
In the American’s 4-1 semifinal win over Sweden in Gothenburg on indoor carpet, Bob and Mike downed veteran doubles standout Jonas Bjorkman and Simon Aspelin (who had just won the US Open with Julian Knowle) 7-6(11), 6-2, 6-3.
“In your late 20s and early 30s you begin to pay a lot smarter,” Bob said. “We've literally played thousands of matches together and are picking up on the little things -- movement wise, how to play the percentages, what types of returns to hit, where to go on the volley. Doubles is a different game than singles and something you have to learn. I'm sure Federer could become the best doubles player in the world, but it would take at least a year because doubles demands a different type of shot-making.”
One of the reasons why the Bryans are putting together a Hall of Fame career is because their parents, Wayne and Kathy (who was also a former pro) emphasized the competition from early on. Bob remembers doing doubles drills from the time he was six-years-old.
“My parents always seemed to get more out of our doubles wins than singles because if we went to a tournament in singles, one of us would always come home disappointed,” Bob said.
“It really affected me if Mike lost. I remember back when Mike lost in the NCAA singles to Vince Allegre of UCLA (in 1998) and I was crushed. I couldn't believe it. So when I suited up, I had a fire inside me because I wasn't getting to let the whole family go down.”
Bob maintained the family pride and became first Stanford player since Alex O'Brien in 1992 to win NCAA Triple Crown: the NCAA team , singles and doubles, with Mike, of course. Bob says that since they were kids, he and Mike have always been seen as a package deal.
That package is tightly wrapped and when it's opened the wrong way, another team can let out a Pandora's box. In 2006, the Bryans were shocked in the third round of the US Open by Russia's Mikhail Youzhny and Czech Leo Freidl.
A couple of weeks later in the Davis Cup semis in Moscow after watching Roddick and Blake go down in singles, they walked on court and mauled Youzhny and Dmitry Tursunov 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. The US lost the tie, but the Bryans salvaged some pride.
“We wanted to shut the crowd up,” Bob said. “Plus, we wanted revenge on Youzhny. We gave them a beat down.”
The Bryans will likely get a chance to face that pairing again in Portland, unless Russian Captain Shamil Tarpischev pulls a rabbit out of his hat and decides to sub in singles specialists Nikolay Davydenko or Igor Andreev.
But Bob isn't concerned who Russia trots to face he and his brother, because they'll be fresh and roaring to go.
“This is a huge match for us and for US tennis,” Bob said. “We already have out juices going. Hopefully, we'll have a chance to clinch it. That would be a dream come true.”