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Bryan Brothers: The Golden Bear's boys

July 1, 2011 07:14 AM
Bob Bryan (L) and Mike Bryan celebrate with their famous chest bump during their quarterfinal match at Wimbledon.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

-- Bob and Mike Bryan have been popular with U.S. tennis fans for a long time, but who knew that golfing great Jack Nicklaus was such a big fan that he would be willing to leave Wimbledon's Royal Box during the women's semifinals and head over to Court 1 to see the twins take down Jurgen Melzer and Philip Petzschner, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4?

"He came out to our warm-up at 11 a.m. on Court 6; he was there for every ball we hit," said Bob. "It was pretty funny while the crowd was figuring out who he was. I heard a couple of months ago he was coming, and I forgot."

But that was what the 18-time major winner did, and he hung around long enough to catch the Bryans' wristbands when they threw them to him after the victory. He actually delayed a business trip to Moscow to see his favorite duo play and made sure that the 12 friends he flew in on his private jet to London also got tickets for Wimbledon.

Bob met Nicklaus through a friend in Fisher Island, Fla., and now visits his compound a couple of times a year. Nicklaus has installed three lit grass courts at his home (along with a putting green, boat slips for his two yachts and a museum of animals) and hosts a regular weekend doubles game. Once a year, he hosts a tournament where the trophy is a huge bear claw.

Mike Bryan says he has good hands. Bob says he's a great serve-and-volleyer.

"He's got a crew out there rolling the courts, cutting them, lining them," Bob said. "I don't know anyone else who has three lit grass courts."

Nicklaus doesn't play as much golf as he used and is devoted to tennis, the same way that some tennis pros eventually become golfing addicts.

"We gave him a racquet after the Miami tournament. He was asking, 'What do you string it at? Why is it stiffer, the grommets and stuff?" Bob recalled.

The Bryans have won two out of the last three majors at the 2010 US Open and the 2011 Aussie Open but were stunned in the semifinals of Roland Garros. But the No. 1-ranked team did manage to win their record 72nd title the next week in Queens, and while rain has played havoc with their schedule at Wimbledon, they have bore through some tough matches, including a 16-14 in-the-fifth-set win over Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley in the third round.

It's been a long spring and early summer for the Bryans, who have been in Europe for three months.

Their parents, former touring and current teaching pros Wayne and Kathy, would love to see the boys play live, but even if they can't they don't miss a beat. On Wednesday during the Bryans' marathon win, Wayne was up at 3 a.m. watching his sons.

"He said he was doing wind sprints up and down our street in the pitch black," Mike said. "He gets so much nervous energy when he watches us he has to do exercise, even though one time he blew his back out before doing pushups."

While Wayne and Kathy watch all their sons' matches, they rarely sit in the Friend's Box, as both the boys and their dad tend to get nervous. He is deeply involved in their career, so much so that he sends them an email after their matches with the stats for the day and for the year. Wayne, who is often referred to as the "Pied Piper of Tennis" due to his enthusiasm for spreading the sport's gospel, combines the role of father with that of a coaching consultant.

"The lines do get blurred," Bob said. "With how intense the sport is and how much you have to sacrifice, it's hard to flip the switch on and off. We are a tennis family and have a tennis life. We talk about tennis scoops and gossip. I don't know how my mom does it, but she is able to bring up completely new subjects."

But when the men get together, the chatter tends to be all tennis all the time. Mike says that when their dad picks them up at the Los Angeles airport after a trip, they spend the next two hours driving back to the family home in Camarillo talking "all tennis. There are highs and lows. If we lose a match, it kind of breaks their day," Bob said. "Even if they are not over here, they are just as jacked up as we are [when we win]."

It's not just the Golden Bear who likes the boys, as Wayne is the center of a hard-core group of 30-40 fans who watch their matches live on the Internet together. Wayne has nicknamed the group "The Cave."

The Bryans still have a big step to take before winning Wimbledon again, as they will have to confront the solid veteran team of Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic in the semifinals. If they do win it, Bob says he will don one of Nicklaus' Golden Bear caps in honor of Jack.

But while the golfing legend is devoted to them, he doesn't have quite the status of their 90-year-old grandma, who charts every single point of every single match they've played. "Every serve, missed serve, double fault -- she keeps a book on it," Bob said. "My parents keep saying it's what is keeping my grandparents alive."


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