After 24 Years, Bob Bryan Gets Fresh Look At US Open
Beyond even the extreme periphery of the sprawling USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, practice court 17 is about as far away from the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium as you can get and still claim to be part of the US Open.
It's not the first place you'd go looking to find the Bryan brothers, who have won five titles inside the world’s largest tennis stadium. But the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation courts were where Bob Bryan found himself at practice Friday, watching brother Mike, who is playing the Open with Jack Sock.
The location is also an apt metaphor for the daunting challenge confronting the American, who, at 40, is sitting out his first Open since 1995 and looking to fight his way back on tour following right hip surgery little more than three weeks ago.
“No one has ever come back with a joint replacement, a steel hip, so that’s something to work towards,” said Bryan as he climbed into a tournament shuttle to drive back to the locker room.
Anyone following Bryan’s Instagram story – which has documented his recovery from surgery - will have little doubt about his resolve. His most recent post was of him hitting a few gentle balls with Mike on P17. Hopefully his surgeon missed that one.
Bryan, who is walking with the aid of a cane, says that it’s a surreal feeling to be back at the Open but not in the main draw. “It’s a little weird. We’ve played 20-plus Opens in a row; it’s always been one of our favourite spots to play because of the crowd support. It’s taken our games to their highest level.
“But there are other things to enjoy about the tournament, so much to do, I have so many friends here, parties going on, so I am enjoying it in a different way. But I’d still rather be on the court playing it.”
During his recovery, Bryan also has been able to enjoy so many family moments – with wife Michelle, and three children Micaela (6), Bobby Jr. (4) and Richie (3 in October) that otherwise would have been missed had he been out on tour. “I was home for their first day of school, I was able to take a couple of vacations, which I haven’t done in our 20 years on tour. We’ve gotten to do stuff that I’ve wanted to do for my whole life.”
Bryan last played 13 May against Mektic/Peya in the Madrid final, when for the first time in 1,407 matches, he was forced to retire. Had he won that match, he and Mike would have returned to co-World No. 1s.
In the aftermath, he said that his main regret was first trying to get back on court through rehab rather than undergoing surgery earlier than 2 August, when he went under the knife.
“The frustration was doing all the rehab trying to avoid surgery. The countless treatments and doctors’ visits weren’ t working and I kept missing tournament after tournament. I eventually found out that surgery was the only course. My hip was worn out, bone on bone, and had many other issues. I’m already feeling better than I did before the operation.”
“It’s a hip surface replacement with an artificial joint. My incredible surgeon, Dr. Edwin Su, cut the head off my femur and replaced it with a metal ball and cemented a metal cap on my hip socket. It’s different to a full replacement because I don’t have the metal rod going down my femur.”
Another change for Bryan at this year’s US Open? He’s attracting a lot more attention at security checkpoints. “I buzz when I go through the US Open metal detectors. I don’t have a medical waiver yet so I just show them the scar.”
A look at Bob Bryan's new hip.
The average recovery time for a joint replacement like Bryan’s is eight months, but because he has more time to dedicate to rehab, he’s hopeful of cutting that to six. “I don’t have a nine-to-five job so I can do more rehab,” he says.
While not talking up his chances, Bryan hasn’t ruled out coming back for the Nitto ATP Finals in London from 11-18 November. “That’s a dream, but luckily Mike is likely to qualify with two partners (also Sock), which I don’t think has been done before. So even if I come back he might not pick me,” he says smiling.
“The toughest part has been not achieving the goals I set for myself. I said I wanted to come back for the French Open, failed, wanted to come back for the grass season, failed, wanted to come back for Atlanta, failed. So it was very hard and unsettling not knowing what the future held. Now I have a plan for recovery, so that makes my days a lot easier.”
One thing is for certain: The winner of 116 tour-level titles – including 16 majors and 38 ATP World Tour Masters 1000s - isn’t doing all the hard work just to come back for the sake of playing. “I’m only coming back if I feel I can win tournaments. I don’t want to return to tour as a shadow. If I can’t get back to 100%, then I’ll call it a day.”