Bob & Mike: A Winning Combination
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan have ushered in high-tempo power to professional doubles and become one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport.
For seven of the past nine years, Americans Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan have finished No. 1 in the year-end ATP Doubles Team Rankings. In that period they have lifted 11 Grand Slam championship trophies from 19 finals and compiled a 575-142 team match record, spearheading the doubles revolution in the sport.
Speaking to the 33-year-old twins at the Valencia Open 500, Mike Bryan confesses to DEUCE, “It is always a top goal to finish No. 1 for the year. When we have clinched No. 1, it has always come as a relief. You then realise travelling around the world to tournament after tournament is for something.”
Bob Bryan adds, “It is a great feeling to finish year-end No. 1 again. It quietens voices in your head. Some people may have thought we had it in the bag this year, but we worked really hard and weren’t complacent.”
Complacency has never been a part of their make-up.
“We have to improve each and every year, because other teams are getting stronger,” says Mike. “Other teams are playing our style of doubles. There is no way we would have been in the Top 10 in 2003, let alone No. 1, if doubles had been as strong then.”
Bob admits, “We still have the adrenaline. We still love having goals at the start of each year and knocking them down.”
That drive, according to South African Jeff Coetzee, has allowed the Bryans to stay ahead of the chasing pack for so long. “I think the boys have shown both consistency and hunger and from the beginning they wanted to be World No. 1 and would stop at nothing,” Coetzee says. “I think their consistency has put a different bar to the game and you either keep up or stay behind.”
Australian Ashley Fisher adds, “The Bryans dreamt of winning doubles Grand Slams as children and have shown doubles players that tennis is not just about playing, but also entertaining the fans... Not only do we all want to play like them but more importantly, they lead the way in terms of character and integrity, and that legacy will live just as long as the records they set on the court.”
BryansSweden’s Jonas Bjorkman cites their father, Wayne, as the Bryans’ main inspiration to becoming the most successful and recognisable doubles team in the world. “I think he instilled in them that they have to be accessible to fans, sponsors and tournaments,” the former doubles World No. 1 says. “Because the more a player gives, the more he gets back.”
On 12 December, the Bryans will break another long-standing record and add to their legacy. Already the all-time team titles leaders (75) and ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favourite Doubles Team for six straight years, they will pass John McEnroe for most weeks as World No. 1. McEnroe spent, at different times of his career, a total of 270 weeks at the doubles summit until 25 September 1989.
“We never thought we’d ever better McEnroe’s record,” says Bob. “Late last year, we noticed McEnroe’s record of weeks at No. 1, so that was another incentive and goal to work towards. To break it, is crazy - amazing.”
Of course, Bob and Mike, like every great doubles team have chemistry and respect for one another. Add to that the belief that their partner is going to hit a good shot and support one another in any situation. The key for any player is to find a partner who strengthens their weaknesses and vice-versa. It’s also important to be consistent, to find a way to win matches even when you are not playing great.
Recently retired South African Wesley Moodie says, “Doubles is often like a marriage - it’s convenient to have this ‘marriage’ with a brother!”
Their partnership has proved almost exclusive. Incredibly, Bob (716-235) has only once partnered someone other than his brother. Mike (729-237) has partnered five non-blood relations during his career.
Through every junior age group and for the majority of their 14 seasons, since turning professional at the 1998 US Open, Fisher believes, “They have been a target every match they have played, as each team has wanted to add the World No. 1 team as a scalp. The twins offset this with energy, passion and a general love of being in a battle each tournament.”
Fellow Australian Stephen Huss agrees. “Most of all, and what gets overlooked too often, it is their mental toughness to show up every single match with that same positive energy, belief, and exuberance.”
Australian David Macpherson, a former World No. 11 and winner of 16 doubles titles, must take some of the credit for the Bryans’ professionalism and discipline. As their coach since August 2005, when “fate brought us together,” Macpherson insists, “they give me 100 per cent, so I do my very best too.”
BryansMike believes that “hiring David was one of the biggest moves in our careers. He is a genius coach. Sometimes we think he is even more dedicated to the sport than we are. He’ll scout opponents weeks in advance and put all his comments down in books. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of every opponent.”
Bob adds, “David has brought so much. He is a rich source of positivity. He believes in us and is a tremendous worker - from getting racquets re-strung, scouting opponents and more. He keeps everything in perspective, even when we lose and are tough to be around.”
Moodie is certain Macpherson has greatly helped the team dynamic. “I am very sure that their coach has played an extremely important role in keeping things fresh for them and resulted in the Bryans having the consistency,” he says. “Having a trusted and accomplished coach as a third team member would certainly add a different dimension to the team as well.”
Last year, the Bryans’ relationship changed during the 2010 off-season, when Bob married his long-time girlfriend, Florida attorney Michelle Alvarez, in December. Now, the twins spend some of their time on different coasts, but that might change soon. Once again, the dream of more silverware and their love for the sport dominates.
“There have been two times this year, when we’ve been on different coasts,” says Bob. “Mike was hitting with juniors and I was struggling to find players to hit with. When we travelled to the first tournaments it was definitely strange. We knew we weren’t as sharp. I think Mike will start looking at places in Miami soon.”
“They have been a target every match they have played, as each team has wanted to add the World No. 1 team as a scalp”
Mike insists, “It’s a small factor, not being together all year,” but also recognises the need to stay in top form. “It definitely becomes difficult to find a No. 1 to hit with. Of course lots of other pairs don’t live in the same country, so their chances of practising together are limited, but we’ve always made the effort to train together.”
The twins’ work ethic remains just as strong as their memory of childhood dreams of winning doubles Grand Slams. Bob confesses, “Our Mom [Kathy] and Dad instilled in us, right from the start, a love for the game. The money is great, but we never look at draws and money. We play each match the best we can at every tournament we play. We enjoy the life of playing tennis each day.”
Even today, coach Macpherson admits, “We work hard on all the facets of the game and leave no stone unturned. I just try to make them the best on the court. Try to give them the right game plan, which they execute well. They are self-sufficient, so once they are on court they work out how to win.
“Being No. 1 is obviously a tremendous goal and their bid year-after-year to attain that. They are self-motivated, so hungry, disciplined and motivated to succeed.”
BryansFormer ATP World Tour pro Robbie Koenig recognises the fact that, “they have an excellent work ethic and have continued to work on improving their strengths and weakness season upon season, never resting on their laurels. That’s important because the moment you become satisfied, you start to stagnate.”
Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, who partnered Rohan Bopanna to the 2010 US Open final (l. to Bryans), adds, “There are a lot of teams that have good serves and volleys, but team Bryan do all the little things right. They don’t cut corners or take anything for granted.”
In recent years, singles players, traditionally strong from the baseline, such as Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner, have begun teaming up and have further strengthened the pool of doubles talent. It is yet another reason that motivates the twins to improve their own games.
“There are now 10-15 solid teams capable of winning and, of course, more singles players are forming strong pairings,” says right-hander Mike. “Each have big serves and solid games.”
“But we always step onto courts feeling we can win every match,” says left-hander Bob. “When we lose a match, we head home and train together, clear the air to learn lessons and improve. We do take losses hard, such as the US Open in August. We struggle to sleep, but we don’t experience as many these days because we know how to play the big matches.
“We’re not looking over our shoulders after bad matches. When we weren’t winning Grand Slams and ATP World Tour titles initially we didn’t have the winning formula, but now we know what it takes.”
Says Mike Bryan, “Losses, like the US Open [to Ivo Karlovic and Frank Moser] in August, give us wake up calls. They remind us we can’t be lazy and make us train harder, get stronger in the gym.”
This winners’ mentality made Bjorkman, who retired in 2008 with a 12-14 record against the Bryans, feel he always had to be sharp the minute he stepped onto court with them.
“Whenever I played against them you had to be ready right from the start, because they were always prepared and ready to take advantage of a team’s slow start,” says Bjorkman. “There was no way of working your way in against Bob and Mike. If ever they got off to a good start, they rarely lost. I think their greatest attribute is their intensity on court.
“Sometimes they don’t even talk between points, like other pairs do, to discuss where to serve or what one of them will do at the net. They have great understanding and movement.”
BryansQureshi agrees. “One thing you notice when you play the Bryans is that if they get their serves broken, immediately - the next return game - they are going to have you handle a lot of balls. Bob might throw up a lob and Mike will belt a backhand, but you can be sure that the ball is going to be in play.
“Also, their body language is superb. Watching them, you cannot tell if they are losing because when they are behind in the set or match, that is when they pump up the energy even more.”
Koenig believes, “They have made the modern game predominantly power orientated, but they themselves, still have plenty of finesse to outsmart opponents. They have also brought in even more ‘movement’ into doubles in so much as intercepting effectively, at every given opportunity, has become their hallmark. They do it better than any other team has ever done!”
A doubles team since birth, the Bryans ply their trade in a world where each player needs to know their roles, work together and communicate. This week, at The O2 in London, they will be bidding to lift their fourth season-ending title at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. You’d think they will take some stopping.