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Bryan brothers determined to bounce back after rare setback

Bob and Mike Bryan hold up the runner-up trophies for the Gentlemen's Doubles Championship on Centre Court
by Michael Beattie
Saturday 5 July 2014

It hurts, whether it’s first time or the 11th. The reaction may differ – a little less panic, a little more reflection – but the sting remains. A Grand Slam final defeat is a bitter experience, and even after more than a decade of winning the sport’s highest accolades, the Bryan brothers are no less immune.

“We've been in 26 Grand Slam finals; we've lost 11 of them – those are daggers, you know,” said Mike Bryan after the five-set loss to Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil. “We won't wake up too chipper tomorrow morning. But we usually bounce back. It's going to motivate us to go hit the gym. You can't win 'em all.”

Nevertheless, you have to deal with the losing. Grand Slam defeats can be shattering experiences – think Guillermo Coria’s agonising loss in the 2004 French Open final – as much as a chance to reflect and regroup. For better or worse, the 36-year-olds take some comfort in the fact they’ve been here before. Recognising the warning signs is an unwanted, necessary skill.

“You walk around in a fog for a couple days,” Bob Bryan explained. “You don't sleep the night after one of these losses. That's when you can get sick – you play three and a half hours on the court, you're body's broken down, then you go back home and you can't sleep, and you're looking at your phone until 5am. You wake up at 8pm, jump on a flight, and you go home get like pneumonia.”

It’s just the third time since 2005 that the Bryan brothers do not have a Grand Slam title to their name. The last time they were in this position, after The Championships 2012, they responded in some style, returning to Wimbledon to win Olympic gold before winning the next four Grand Slams.

Then, as now, they have a goal in their sights. Like the Olympics two years ago, a century of titles together is tantalisingly close. Mike has 100 already, having won titles with Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles in 2002, but he and Bob have 98 in tandem. Renewing the hunt stateside, starting in Washington before the Masters 1000 events in Toronto and Cincinnati, would be a fine way to bounce back.

“It's easier to digest a tough loss like this when you have three Wimbledons sitting in the trophy case,” Bob Bryan said. “You are not panicking. You know you can do it again. You know what it takes. You know the formula to win a Grand Slam. [After] we won our first, we lost five in a row – we thought, ‘Are we a one-hit wonder? Can we do it? Do we know what it takes?’ So winning two, three, fifteen, we feel like we got it figured out, and we can do it again.”

For all the Bryans’ experience, Sock and Pospisil had something they didn’t – an unbeaten record together. “The honeymoon period is sometimes, you know, tough to stop,” admitted Bob Bryan. “ We’ve faced it many times – guys playing together the first time, are really excited, they have great runs. Everything is fresh and new.”

“Haven't seen the strings of the puppet show,” added Mike Bryan. “You can lose a few matches with a partner and there's a little bit of doubt that creeps in. It was just a bundle of positive energy the whole way. They've never lost a match together. That's just the force of momentum – they have smiles on their faces, they're playing happy.”

Those smiles were still beaming as Sock and Pospisil began piecing together the unlikely story of their success – the American, needing to play with a player inside the top 50 to qualify, asking the Canadian if he was interested, and Pospisil agreeing with the caveat that his involvement would be dictated by his back.

“I told Jack, ‘We can enter, but right now my back is not good and I don't know how it's going to feel at Wimbledon’. He took the chance, took the risk, and said okay. At that point, once my back was pain-free for the last two weeks, I was pretty sure I was going to play. There was no doubt after that. It was more when we were talking about playing.”

As the Bryans regroup, both Sock and Pospisil face the task of translating the momentum built in their Cinderella run to the title – taking out four top-ten seeded pairs to win it – into singles success.

“Any match you win, especially in Grand Slams, playing in the second week can only help your confidence in all aspects of tennis,” Sock said.

“Actually this year I set a goal to really focus on doubles as well, because I thought it would help my singles game,” added Pospisil. “Finishing the points at the net, I think that's something that I can do more in singles.

“At the beginning of the year I put a little bit more focus on doubles even though I hadn't played very many tournaments because of my back and all that. It is tough to play both singles and doubles, but at the slams and Masters and stuff, now I think we'll give it a go.

“We're still going to be doing what's best for our singles. We're not doubles specialists now. Our schedule is still going to be focused on singles.”

“That’s a great answer,” said Sock with a smile. There are definite up-sides to this winning lark.

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