Still ten­nis’ premier dou­bles fig­ures

Bob and Mike Bryan, twins in it to win it, con­tinue to make history in tan­dem.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - BILL DWYRE

LON­DON — When Bob and Mike Bryan take the court for one of their dou­bles matches at Wim­ble­don this week, they might smile and tell each other they have played on a bet­ter grass sur­face than this at home. Be­cause they have. As right­fully proud as the All Eng­land Lawn Ten­nis and Cro­quet Club is of its man­i­cured green stuff, it would be hard-pressed to top the backyard on Ra-

mona Drive in Ca­mar­illo.

“Sure, they’ve hit on this,” says fa­ther Wayne, while show­ing a guest around. “We’ve had a net up here. The bounce is true, per­fect.”

The Bryan broth­ers no longer need their dad’s agron­o­mist skills. They could play on vol­canic ash and win. They are 37-yearold twins who have been, al­most with­out ques­tion, the best at what they do since 2003, and show no signs of slow­ing up.

Hard to quit when you are No. 1, af­ter all.

They lost at Wim­ble­don last year in as ex­cit­ing a dou­bles match as you’ll ever see, and they are ex­pect­ing to be in the mix this year to win yet another Grand Slam ti­tle. They al­ready have 16 ma­jors, in­clud­ing three Wim­ble­dons.

Show­ing no signs of slow­ing up is their 68-yearold fa­ther. In the ten­nis world, he is the En­er­gizer Bunny. You don’t in­ter­view Wayne Bryan. You show up, shake hands, sit down and take notes.

He has a law de­gree but never prac­ticed. Luck­ily for the other side, which wouldn’t have been able to get in a word.

He owned and op­er­ated the Cabrillo Ten­nis Club in Point Loma for 26 years. And, along with his wife, Kathy, a for­mer top player her­self with four Wim­ble­don ap­pear­ances, taught and raised the hands-down best dou­bles team ever to play the game.

“Peo­ple al­ways talk about me with the boys,” he says, “but it was their mother who got them started.”

Who­ever gets the credit, here’s what the Bryans cre­ated and de­vel­oped, a dou­bles team that:

Has made 158 pro fi­nals and won 106 of them;

Has been, since 2003, the No. 1 team in the world ev­ery year but two and was ranked sec­ond in 2004 and 2008;

Has been in 26 Grand Slam fi­nals, win­ning six Aus­tralian Opens, two

French Opens and five U.S. Opens to go with those three Wim­ble­don ti­tles;

Has had a role in 11 more ma­jor ti­tles, Bob tak­ing seven mixed-dou­bles Grand Slams and Mike four;

Has never won fewer than five tour events in any year since 2002 (they have three so far this year);

Won an Olympic gold medal (Lon­don 2012); a Davis Cup, do­ing the clinch­ing them­selves against Rus­sia in 2007; and a “Golden Slam” (tak­ing the next four ma­jors af­ter the Olympic gold).

Has held the No. 1 rank­ing seem­ingly for­ever, Mike for a record 437 weeks and Bob for 422. The next clos­est is John McEn­roe at 270

Has won about $13 mil­lion each on tour; or, for per­spec­tive, a bit more than ei­ther McEn­roe or Jimmy Con­nors earned in to­tal prize money, in­clud­ing far more lu­cra­tive sin­gles com­pe­ti­tion.

There is so much more. A book of Bryan broth­ers stats would be the ten­nis equiv­a­lent of “War and Peace.”

They were reared with­out the ben­e­fit of TV (per­haps that should be with the ben­e­fit).

“When we wanted to see some­thing, like a big game or an im­por­tant event like the ‘Roots’ se­ries,” Wayne Bryan says, “we show­ered and went to a neigh­bor’s house.”

When his about-to-be­teenage sons re­belled be­cause their friends had not only TV but video games, Wayne says he and Kathy re­lented only a tad.

“They had to make their beds ev­ery morn­ing, shower ev­ery day and take the garbage out ev­ery week,” he says. “For a year.”

When that hap­pened, and the Bryans had no choice but to re­lent, they bought a $146 Atari game and lim­ited play to one hour a week. When the twins were caught leav­ing ten­nis prac­tice early to play more than that one hour, it brought a fam­ily meet­ing. The night be­fore, Wayne wrote 10 pages of lec­ture notes on a yel­low le­gal pad. Then, re­al­iz­ing the at­ten­tion span of 10-year-olds, he boiled it down to about three sen­tences.

Ba­si­cally, ei­ther the Atari or the ten­nis would have to go. Play all the video games you want, but for­get be­ing lugged to prac­tice and tour­na­ments.

Soon, as Wayne de­scribes it, he had the Atari on his shoul­der and was walk­ing to­ward a deep ditch at the end of the backyard to­ward a bar­ranca. Trail­ing were two cry­ing twins who had de­cided it was ten­nis they wanted, not video games.

Wayne heaved the Atari into the bar­ranca, where pieces re­main to­day, a sym­bol of the end of wasted time and the be­gin­ning of the great­est ten­nis dou­bles team ever.

“‘60 Min­utes’ came to do a story about the boys sev­eral years ago and I told that story,” Wayne says. “They kind of didn’t be­lieve it, so we went down and found the old Atari. That was prob­a­bly 20 years later.”

They also didn’t be­lieve Bryan when he told the TV pro­gram that in his Hawthorne High year­book, he had made a pre­dic­tion.

“I said that I wanted to grow up, live in San Fran­cisco and have my son be the No. 1 ten­nis player in the world,” Wayne says.

He missed slightly on the ge­og­ra­phy and needed the plu­ral, not sin­gu­lar. Oth­er­wise, quite a pre­dic­tion.

He never wa­vered in his ap­proach to par­ent­ing.

“The 18 years that you have your kids un­der your roof,” he says, “sets up their en­tire life.”

The Bryan broth­ers rose through the na­tional ranks, dom­i­nat­ing in ju­niors. They of­ten ended up sched­uled for matches against each other in sin­gles and their par­ents set up a sys­tem in which that sel­dom took place. They just al­ter­nated de­fault­ing to each other.

“That hap­pened hun­dreds of times,” Wayne says.

Be­tween ages 16 and 18, they played each other 16 times, and the out­comes were sim­i­lar to the iden­ti­cal way in which they do ev­ery­thing: ges­tures, fa­cial re­ac­tions, man­ner­isms. Each won eight times. Now, the ten­nis goals that 10-year-old twin broth­ers put on the re­frig­er­a­tor in the house on Ra­mona Drive in Ca­mar­illo have all been met. All the Grand Slams, all the Davis Cups, Olympic gold medals and No. 1s have been achieved.

But the mem­ory of Jack Sock’s ri­fled fore­hand that split the twins and con­verted match point in the Wim­ble­don fi­nal last year re­mains vivid. And so, there will be more Bryan broth­ers grass-hop­ping across the pond in the next two weeks, while Wayne and Kathy Bryan pace and bite their fin­ger­nails from afar, hav­ing cut back on travel.

That doesn’t mean Wayne will sit in a quiet cor­ner, track­ing Wim­ble­don re­sults on his phone. He is about as seden­tary as a 2-month-old puppy.

He coached a World Team Ten­nis team for 13 years. He plays in his own band. He makes mo­ti­va­tional speeches and is of­ten hired by ten­nis tour­na­ments as the on-court an­nouncer.

One tour­na­ment di­rec­tor, Anne Worces­ter in New Haven, Conn., once said that Wayne “could make a rain de­lay seem fun.”

But more im­me­di­ate on his agenda last week was grass — that pre­cious backyard, the man­i­cured plot where twins once pre­tended they were at Wim­ble­don. Where, now, they are. Wayne Bryan calls his backyard the “An­cient and Me­mo­rial Course.” Satur­day, he held one of his goofy cro­quet tour­na­ments there. Ear­lier in the week, he was prun­ing and fret­ting over the grass and as­sur­ing that there would be “no bad bounces here.”

The tour­na­ment play­ers are friends, neigh­bors and coun­try­men. The stakes are tro­phies and T-shirts, all pro­vided at lit­tle cost and with lit­tle dis­cre­tion by the course groundskeeper and tour­na­ment di­rec­tor.

“There’ll be trash-talk­ing, lots of ar­gu­ments,” Wayne says. “Maybe one of the mal­lets will end up on the roof. That’s hap­pened.”

There is al­ways talk about play­ing where the fa­mous twins first trod, and much pride about how they once chose ten­nis over Atari.

Maybe some­body even climbed into the bar­ranca to see if any pieces could still be found.

Kenzo Tri­bouil­lard Agence France-Presse/Getty Im­ages

TWIN BROTH­ERS Mike, left, and Bob Bryan of Ca­mar­illo have won 16 Grand Slam events, an Olympic gold medal and a Davis Cup ti­tle in men’s dou­bles.

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