By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
FRIBOURG, Switzerland – They are the best doubles team in the world, arguably the best in history, known as the Bryan brothers, or just Bob and Mike, the twins with 11 Grand Slam and 76 overall titles together.
They wear the same clothes on the court, are known for their celebratory chest bumps, both went to Stanford, have appeared in commercials and even have their own band, The Bryan Brothers Band, where Bob plays drums and Mike plays keyboards.
Needless to say, the twins from California, with very different personalities off the court, are very close. Their results speak for themselves, as they are just one Grand Slam title away from breaking the men’s doubles all-time record and likely will find themselves one day in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
But as the brothers have gotten older, 33, turning 34 in 2012, they are entering different phases of their lives, often without the other for long stretches really for the first time. Bob is married to Michelle Alvarez, and the couple, who lives in Miami, just had their first daughter Micaela, on Jan. 31. Mike is engaged to his longtime Welsh girlfriend Lucille Williams and lives in the twins’ hometown of Camarillo, Calif.
Mike is without his brother on the U.S. Davis Cup Team this week, as it competes against Roger Federer and the Swiss team, Feb. 10-12, in a first-round tie in Fribourg, and will be playing only his second match since 2002 without Bob. Bob was unable to make the trip, wanting to stay home with his wife and baby.
Back in 2002, Mike did win two titles without Bob (giving him a total of 78 to Bob's 76), one with Mark Knowles and one with Mahesh Bhupathi. But that was a long time ago.
Living on different coasts now instead of together, the two were apart, training separately, for most of the offseason at the end of 2011, and except for a few exhibitions, did not hit a ball together. They did, however, stay in constant contact with four or five phone calls a day. For Mike, he thinks the independence is great for them as they age.
"Slowly we are becoming more independent, now that we are not living together, are on separate coasts," Mike said from Fribourg. "I had my team, where I was practicing and training with different people in California, and Bob was out in Miami. He had his bunch of people, and it worked out really well. We came to Australia, we were both working hard. This is just an example of me going out on my own. It is good for us. We both rely on each other so much. Usually I have Bob next to me doing the interview, too, and he is doing half the talking. It is kind of cool. It is exciting to spread your wings and be your own individual."
The separation was different, and some people wondered whether it would hurt their performance, but as Mike says, the two are really on autopilot on the court, knowing just where the other will be. And it showed in Australia, as the two advanced to the final.
"People were wondering if it would hurt our chemistry on court, but I think it is good to freshen things up because we are together 40 weeks of the year on the tour," he added. "And so you can get kinda stale, so I think it does freshen things (to be apart in the offseason)."
Many people naturally lump both Mike and Bob together, although anyone who knows them is aware that they are very different people and can be competitive with each other. When Bob married Alvarez in December 2010, talk began that it was only a matter of time before Mike and Williams, his longtime girlfriend, became engaged as well. If one brother married, surely the other would soon, too.
Mike was happy to let his brother blaze the trail for him in terms of becoming a husband and father, although he admits it might have helped him decide to take the path sooner himself, and has seen how much happiness – and sleeplessness – baby Micaela has brought to the family.
"Everyone groups us together, like, ‘Those guys are jerks,’ or, ‘Those guys are good guys,’" Mike said. "It isn’t, ‘Mike is this, and Bob is that.’
"We are always so on the same plane, and we are even competitive about certain things. I kind of wanted to see how it was going with him; he is pioneering the way," he added. "Now he has the baby, and I see all the joy it is bringing to his life. It kind of helped me maybe push me over the edge. Someone has to take the lead. We are not exactly the same; our personalities are night and day different. He has his own interests. When we are together, we are usually doing the same thing. But he is more artistic, he does all his recording on the computer. He is really computer-oriented, and I could care less about that stuff."
Going with those computer skills, Bob is the social media guru of the two, with over 55,000 followers on Twitter, and he is a frequent tweeter, although Mike notes he has not tweeted anything since announcing Micaela’s birth on Feb. 1, as a testament to how tired and busy he is. Also not a surprise to Mike was the website Bob created in advance of Micaela’s birth, www.micaelabryan.com
, with a countdown of ‘Time Left to Cook’ before Michelle gave birth.
Mike, on the other hand, joined Twitter much later and has less than 27,000 followers, although tweeting is not high on his priority list.
"He is super into it. He does Facebook, Twitter. He updates everything, and I could care less," Mike said. "I am surprised he has not tweeted since the baby. But it is baby 100 percent. I have never seen a guy have so many toys set up; he has boxes full of blankets, mittens, hats. The whole house is baby-oriented, so the website, I was not surprised. I kind of knew it was coming. The countdown was pretty cool. I am sure in a few days he will start updating it, adding pictures. It is a matter of time."
With Mike away in Switzerland, Bob has been flooding him with baby photos, which Mike is more than happy to receive. It was love at first time for him, as well, when he met her. It was his first time holding a baby, so like Bob, he is learning starting with the basics, like always supporting a baby’s head.
"It was a blast meeting my new niece. I am in love with her," he said. "It feels like she has my genes, too, it feels like it is my daughter. That is how special she is. He is on cloud nine now."
One night before Mike left for Davis Cup, the brothers decided to give Alvarez a break and let her sleep while they tended to the baby. Alvarez did get up in time, though, to take a cell phone video of some of the experience, as they tried to figure out how to stop Micaela from crying, with Mike bouncing her over his lap with a big blanket over his knees, just in case there was a slip.
"It was just a trip. We were both clueless," Mike said of the night. "We are asking each other, ‘Why is she crying? Does she need to be burped? Is it the diaper? Is it the formula? What do we do?’ Every time we put her down, she would cry. He thought I was holding her wrong; it was the blind leading the blind."
Mike and Williams are planning to marry later this year, probably in November, once the ATP World Tour Finals conclude, with a honeymoon likely to South Africa.
Mike does wish the two lived closer together, as do their parents Wayne and Kathy, who also still live in Camarillo. But with Alvarez’s family in Florida, he thinks Bob will likely stay there. Mike has a house in Tampa, as well, but prefers the West Coast.
"I would maybe like to live in the same state as him. It would be fun to have our kids play together one day, so it is kind of tough he is way over there in Miami," he said. "My parents want to bring him back, but I don’t think he is coming back any time soon. She has her family out there. Maybe I will go to Miami, he will spend some time in California. We will see."
And for Mike and Bob fans, no fear – the two are planning no changes to their usually full ATP Tour schedule together this year. They will be playing in Delray Beach, Indian Wells and Miami in the U.S. before heading to Europe for the clay-court season.
But this week, Mike’s focus is on defeating the likely Swiss doubles team of Federer and Wawrinka, with his new partner, probably Mardy Fish, on an indoor clay court. The lineup for this weekend will be announced at the official draw ceremony Thursday, although U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier has the option of changing his lineup before Saturday’s doubles match. If Fish, the No. 1 singles player, or John Isner, the likely No. 2 player, plays a long five-set match Friday, or they both do, Mike’s partner for Saturday could switch, and he could also potentially play with rising American star Ryan Harrison.
Mike and Fish teamed up in the 2008 Davis Cup semifinals against Spain, where they defeated Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco on an outdoor clay court in five sets. It will take some more planning for Mike to play with someone else, but he is excited to try something new and play with any of his three talented teammates, and for fans watching, there will likely still be some chest bumps.
"It is a new challenge. I think I am pretty lucky I have these three guys to choose from. They are really good doubles players," Mike said. "There is one guy I have played with in 10 years. I have played only one match without Bob, and that was with Mardy in Davis Cup.
"We just have to communicate a little bit more. Bob and I play quick and just read each other so well. Mardy and I just will come together between points, but we have had a good couple practices together, and we are starting to work out the kinks. I am sure we will throw in a few chest bumps. Bob will be watching on TV, so we will have his positive vibes from Miami, and we will see how it goes. We’re going to go for it."