There is an oft-repeated joke on the men’s Tour about the Bryan brothers’ doubles supremacy – that even if you met your ideal doubles partner on the day you were born, and played only with that person from age dot for the rest of your life, the Bryan brothers would still have nine months’ more experience together than you.
Actually even if you were an identical twin, and you and your twin played together, and you were marvellous, you would still only have a one in four chance of possessing the scientific reason why Bob and Mike Bryan excel – they are “mirror twins”, which is to say they reflect one another’s movements on court, through Bob being left-handed and Mike right. Only 25 percent of identical twins do this. And only some unspecified micro-percentage of identical twins are any good at tennis.
The bottom line is, there is only one Bob and Mike Bryan. Or two, as it were.
The greatest doubles pairing of all time? Statistically, without doubt. Ready? Deep breath. Now aged 36 (Mike is the older by two minutes), the Bryans have won 98 doubles titles as a partnership. When they won Wimbledon 2013, it meant they owned the simultaneous “Golden Slam” – all four Major crowns and Olympic gold.
They have been ranked No.1 at year end a record nine times, including every year from 2009 (allowing for the fact that Mike held the spot on his own at the end of 2012 through Bob missing a Davis Cup match for the birth of his daughter, Micaela). That place at the top of the tennis tree has been officially theirs for 367 weeks, longer than any other pair in history. They have won more matches, more tournaments and more Slams than any other pairing.
They are the only doubles team to have won all the Slams, Olympic gold, all nine Masters Series titles, the year-end championships and the Davis Cup. They also played in front of the largest crowd in tennis history – 27,200 at the 2004 Davis Cup final in Seville. (For comparison the Centre Court holds 14,979 and Arthur Ashe 23,200.)
The only honours to elude them are a calendar year Grand Slam, and the greatest number of Slams won sequentially (Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman set that mark at seven between 1951 and 1952).
They are, of course, back to defend their Wimbledon title in 2014, and on Tuesday (as No.1 seeds, obviously) they beat Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Marcin Matkowski 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(5) to reach the quarter-finals. An hour and 40 minutes later Bob was back on the same court (12, since you ask) for the third round of the mixed doubles. He and Kveta Peschke, seeded No.2, beat Dominic Inglot and Johanna Konta 7-6(6), 6-3. But on Court 6, the top-seeded pair of Mike and Katarina Srebotnik were beaten by Chris Guccione and Oksana Kalashnikova 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The two pairings had been seeded to meet in the final, thus putting the brothers on opposite sides of the net. Gasp. Famously as juniors, they were forbidden by their parents, Kathy and Wayne, from the psychological trauma of facing one another in tournaments and took it in turns to default if drawn against each other. But they have done it in the mixed: in 2002 Mike and Lisa Raymond beat Bob and Srebotnik for the US Open title, while six years later Bob and Sam Stosur beat Mike and Srebotnik to the Wimbledon crown.
At last, however, observers are asking if time is catching up with them. They turn 37 in September, and if they fail to defend their Wimbledon crown, all four Slams will have slipped their grasp. Yet with five titles in 2014, their form has hardly deserted them. Monte Carlo was their 98th as a pair, and the century mark is tantalisingly near – bear in mind that they exceeded the 61 titles of the next best, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, four years ago; they also long surpassed the previous all-time mark of 79 set by Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova. (Actually, Mike has already reached 100, having won two titles in 2002 with Mahesh Bhupathi in Long Island and Mark Knowles in Nottingham, when Bob was briefly focusing on his singles.)
But time is moving on. All their adult lives they have spent 45 weeks a year on the road together, but it is tougher now both are married and Bob has a daughter. They used to share a house in their home state of California; now their marital homes are 250 miles apart on opposite sides of the Florida peninsula.
For now they are still the team to beat – Bob with his big lefty serve and huge forehand, Mike with one of the best returns in doubles, quicker on his feet, better able to take control of the net.
“They always anticipate where the other is moving, so the brother who’s not hitting has the chance to reposition himself,” says Tom Gullikson, US national coach and a Wimbledon doubles finalist in 1983 with his late twin, Tim. “So it’s very hard for an opponent to catch them out of position.”
Some would like to argue that the Bryans’ career would look very different if the top names in singles also played doubles, as they did in times gone by. Critics point to the Olympic Games, where singles players do exactly that and can excel – viz Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka beating the Bryans in 2008 in Beijing. But that trend can’t be the brothers’ fault. Like any competitor, their job is to beat whoever is on the other side of the net.
Others find a different reason to criticise. “I really don’t like the doubles-only thing,” says Mark Woodforde, who reached No.19 in singles and won four titles, apart from his 67 doubles titles (he added another six without Todd Woodbridge). “It’s not right. I’m bewildered as well as impressed. How do they play doubles all day long and not get bored out of their minds?”
That they are never bored by it is plain to see. All the same, they are unlikely ever to exceed the nirvana of Wimbledon 2013. As Bob put it that day: “We have everything. We're adding nuts and whipped cream and cherries to everything we've done before."
The question is, when will their mutual appetite for such things be sated? With 100 titles, perhaps.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all