Bryans Claim The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The net divides the court like a nylon wall, but resembled a bridge bringing two teams, three nations, more than 20,000 fans and an often overlooked form of tennis together today. In a high-quality clash between dynamic doubles duos, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) to capture their third US Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title before an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that gave all four men a rousing ovation at the conclusion of a memorable match.

Facing mini-break deficits in both tie breakers, the Bryans bumped up their level of play when it mattered most.

“I think today we were phenomenal. I mean, there was a 50 miles an hour wind coming down the court, and I thought we were seeing the ball great,” Bob Bryan said.  “It’s awesome when you can see the finish line.  There’s one more match to go. You could leave it all on the line. That’s what kept pushing us forward.  You don’t think about being down a mini break in a finals of a Grand Slam.”

They own two of the fastest sets of hands in tennis — so fast they could jointly juggle jagged bits of broken baseball bats without concern of contracting splinters — but by the end of this encounter, the twins had their hands full at net and were at a temporary loss for a reply.

That moment came after the Bryan brothers played what they called one of the best matches of their professional careers as they leaped into each other’s arms after an ace ended the match. Father Wayne Bryan, the twins’ first coach and long-time doubles promoter who rarely attends his sons matches because he gets too nervous watching them play, leaped out of his seat simultaneously in an eruption of emotion.

In a season in which the Bryan brothers broke the record for most Tour-level doubles titles in the Open Era when they captured their 62nd title in Los Angeles in July, they now stand behind the Woodies, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, for most major titles in the Open Era. The Woodies on 11 major titles together and the Bryans are on pace to shatter that mark if they stay healthy.

The net divides the court, but two become one when Bopanna and  Qureshi share the doubles court. Sport serves as a source of unity as Bopanna, born in Bangalore, India, and Qureshi, from Lahore, Pakistan have reached an accord on court that contrasts with the agitation that can exist between their neighboring nations.

The pair have become promoters of peace and in a gesture larger than tennis Qureshi took time out during the trophy presentation to reiterate the message he and Bopanna have share throughout their partnership: they spend their professional lives striking shots, but peace is their ultimate aim.

“Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries I feel people have wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation,” Quershi said. “I just wanted to declare that we are very friendly, loving, and caring people, and we want peace in this world as much as Americans want and the rest of the world wants.  We all on the same side.”

Those sentiments struck a chord in his opponents.

“It choked me up. I could see him; he was quivering a little bit,” Bob Bryan said. “Just to give that message to everyone was very heartfelt.”

Both Indian and Pakistani fans sat side-by-side cheering on the pair, the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the United Nations sat in adjacent seats and after the match, the Pakistani ambassador  presented the Bryan brothers with matching traditional scarves made from ancient cloth as a show of appreciation for the donation the twins made to help victims of the floods in Pakistan.

“When it comes down to it, a lot of people in Pakistan who don’t have homes and are out on the street. What they’re doing to bring India and Pakistan together is pretty special,” Mike Bryan said. “A sport can bring people together.”

It was one of the rare moments when the action after a final was even more profound than the play itself.

“What they are doing is a lot more important than winning the US Open,” Bob Bryan said.

At a time when religious and political extremes can create so much diviseness in the world can two men running around in shorts smacking felt sphere over a net truly make any impact?

Winning doubles demands cooperation, communication, mutual respect and shared problem solving  — the very qualities people are sometimes resistant to apply in rallies of rhetoric.

On changeovers during their early-round matches, Bopanna and Qureshi watched with joy as the United Nations ambassadors to their respective nationsl shared smiles and conversation giving both men a glimmer of hope that while tennis can’t solve complex international issues it might just start a dialogue

“We always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach.  I think it’s above all the religion and politics,” Qureshi said. “Seeing both ambassadors sitting together and going for one cause obviously is a start.  So I would take it in a positive way.  And like Rohan says all the time:  If you can change few personal people’s mind on Indian or Pakistan’s side, I think it’s a great thing.”

The unity the two men exhibit on court is being reflect back at them at the mixed crowds they saw at their US Open matches.

“Crowd is getting better.  More Indians and Pakistanis coming.  They’re all mixed together sitting in the crowd.  You can’t tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian,” Qureshi said. “That’s the beauty about sports.  That’s the beauty about, I guess, our playing.  Before our pairing you would never see that in any sports, fighting for one cause.  It’s really good to be part of it.”

Competing for a cause binds both teams together.

Five years ago, the Bryan brothers, their father Wayne and several of tennis’ top doubles stars, including Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi sat in interview room one inside Arthur Ashe Stadium explaining why they were filing a lawsuit against the ATP.

The lawsuit, which was filed on September 1st, 2005, alleged that the ATP’s experimental efforts to “enhance” doubles competition was in fact a concerted effort by tournament directors to diminish and eventually eliminate  doubles players’ ability to gain entry into main draws as a cost-cutting measure to save the tournament’s money.

“There is no credibility left for the ATP,” Knowles said that day. “They are basically trying to annihilate one form of the game, which is doubles..”

Essentially, the players sued the very union that was created to represent them and asserted the ATP was placing the interests of tournament directors above its own players when it came to doubles.

“Five years ago we were sitting in this room giving a press conference on trying to save doubles,” Mike Bryan said. “It was on its way out.  My dad worked behind the scenes for about a year and got it done, and with a lot of top players.  Now doubles is strong.  I mean, right out there it was just a packed house for a couple of doubles teams.That was the best atmosphere.  That’s a TV match, which is huge.  So I mean, we’re very happy that we’ve been able to help doubles out.”

The twins from Camarillo, California went on to win the Open the week after the lawsuit to become  the first brothers to lift the U.S. Open doubles title trophy since 1924 when the Kinsey brothers, Howard and Robert, accomplished the feat.

The Bryans believed they saved their best tennis for the final; some observers believe they saved much more that that.

“Doubles seems to have been on life support for so long,” said Hall of Famer John McEnroe, widely regarded as perhaps the finest doubles player of the Open Era. “The Bryan brothers play with so much energy and enthusiasm for the game. They seem to be singlehandedly saving doubles.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

An Excerpt From “American Doubles”

“The Bryans Rule”

An excerpt, printed with permission, from AMERICAN DOUBLES …the Trials …the Triumphs …the Domination by Marcia Frost. The book, published by Mansion Grove House, is available on Amazon.com, BN.com, and AmericanDoublesBook.net.

Kathy Bryan was playing a doubles match on her due date so her boys were literally born to play tennis when they made their appearance on April 29, 1978. Bob and Mike Bryan grew up in Camarillo, California, a small farm town that is known more for raising lemons and strawberries than tennis players. But Kathy and Wayne Bryan changed all that and instead reared the most famous twins in the tennis world.

In 2007, the Bryan Brothers earned the No. 1 place in the world for three consecutive years and for the fourth time in the past five years. The ITF, which bases the honor on a combination of performance and international competition (i.e. Davis Cup), named them their ITF World Doubles Champions for the fifth straight year. They earned 11 ATP titles in 2007 and, with a total of 44, they are getting close to breaking the all-time record by Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (“the Woodies”) of 61 titles.

From January of 2005 to July of 2007, the “Boys,” as they are often known, made seven consecutive Grand Slam finals, the first team in the Open era to accomplish that. They completed the Career Grand Slam, becoming only the third doubles team — and first American team — to have won all four major titles in the Open Era (Jacco Eltingh & Paul Haarhuis and the Woodies are the other two).

While Wayne Bryan may have been coach to his boys when they were growing up, he is clear on who had the dreams, “It was not about my goals, it was really just about their goals. Kathy (their mother) and I did everything we could to help them along the path to their goals.” The boys did not watch television and they were not allowed to play against each other in a junior tournament. It was typical to see a “default” as the score when it was a Bryan-Bryan final. The junior tennis world just accepted that was the way it was.

Bob and Mike knew early on what it was they wanted to do. They wrote down their goals and they kept going back to them:

To be No. 1 in the U.S. in Doubles every year in the Juniors
They were No. 1 in the 12s, 14s and 18s (twice);

To get a full ride to Stanford and win the NCAA Team, Doubles and Singles Championship;
They played for Stanford from 1996-98. They led Stanford to the team championship both seasons and won the NCAA Doubles Championship in 1998. Bob also won the singles that year.

To be No. 1 in the World in Doubles;
They accomplished this for the first time in 2003.

To win all the Grand Slam Doubles titles;
They have won two Australian Opens, two French Opens, two Wimbledons and one U.S. Open Championship.

To be the Davis Cup Doubles Team for the U.S. and win the Davis Cup for the U.S.
They clinched the United State’s first Davis Cup final in 12 years on December 1, 2007.

Writing down the goals was an important part of the process, says Wayne, “We (their mother and I) feel you must see it before you can dream it and you must be passionate about it before you can achieve it. We felt it was very important that they knew the ‘real deal’ and all the thousands of steps it took to get up to the top of the mountain, and at the same time we always wanted them to have a smile on their face and learn the great lessons of life along the way and help other people on their journey…And we wanted to leave the tennis campsite cleaner than we found it.”

It is the bond between the two brothers that led them to both choose a doubles career even after Bob, who won the 1998 NCAA Singles Championship, had a good shot at a career in that event.

James Blake spoke a bit about the talent of the Twins at that [the 2007 Davis Cup final in Portland, Ore.], “We have so much fun watching them because we’re constantly in awe of how good their hands are, how well they move together, how great Mike’s returning, how close Bob gets to the net, how well they’re doing everything.”

It was a long road to Portland from when Mike and Bob went to the Davis Cup match in La Costa, California, when they were just 11 years old. As juniors they won 10 national junior doubles titles, including an unmatched five USTA National Clay Court Championships. They were also the first team to win backto- back USTA National Boys’ 18 titles at Kalamazoo in 50 years. Along the way, Bob managed to pick up six national junior singles trophies, while Mike got five. They were the last brothers (in 1996) to be ranked in the Top 10 of the Boys’ 18 division of the USTA National Junior Rankings at the same time.

To those watching The Twins off the court, there are still other subtle ways to tell the guys apart. Bob has always worn a shell beaded necklace. He is also taller — 6’4” to Mike’s 6’31/2”.

The final goal on Bob and Mike’s list was achieved in when they clinched that Davis Cup for the United States, but that doesn’t mean the twins are done playing. “Doubles is a game that you develop into your early, mid 30s,” says Bob. “See guys in their 30s getting better. I think we’ll still improve.”

April 29, 2008 marked the 30th birthday of Bob and Mike Bryan. As they head into their 30s they decided to just add to the list the goal of chasing some records. The “Woodies” currently hold the record for the most year end number one finishes (5), however, it looks like that record will not last for much longer if Bob and Mike have their way.