Bryan Twins Hit Their Stride at the Right Time

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike and Bob Bryan do not need mirrors to see their reflections. All it takes is a look across the dinner table or the net of a tennis court.

The 23-year-old identical twins' arsenal includes left-handed Bob's big serve and forehand and right-handed Mike's better backhand and volley, which have combined to make the Bryans one of the most formidable doubles teams in the world.

"I think we're definitely on our way," said Mike Bryan, the first-born by two minutes. "We knew we could win big matches. We just didn't know if we could string them together."

They do now.

The Bryans, ranked No. 6 in the ATP doubles race, are enjoying a breakthrough year in their third season on the tour. It was a steep climb from the No. 21 spot they occupied last year, and new heights now beckon.

The brothers are expected to be among the top doubles contenders at the U.S. Open, which begins Monday in New York, and for selection to the U.S. Davis Cup team, which plays India in a five-match qualifying round Sept. 21-23 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"I think they're definitely in the mix," said Patrick McEnroe, the U.S. Davis Cup captain who must announce his selections for the four-man roster and up to four alternates by Sept. 11. "They've had a great year. They've improved a lot. They bring a lot of great energy to the court and that's a plus."

If the Bryans are selected, they will be only the third set of brothers to play for the U.S. Davis Cup team. The earliest siblings were Robert and George Wrenn, who played in 1903. The others were McEnroe and his brother John, although they never played on the same team. John played from 1978-84, 1987-89 and in 1991 and '92, Patrick in 1993, '94 and '96.

The Bryan twins have made their case for selection to the squad by going 42-17 this year, including victories in 22 of their last 26 matches after being upset in the final of the Legg Mason Classic in Washington last week. They were the top-seeded team there after advancing to the semifinals at Wimbledon and winning three tournaments in the past two months, including the Mercedes-Benz Cup title in July in Los Angeles.

"I feel like we're one of the top teams around now," Bob Bryan said. "Our first couple of years on the tour, we'd win some, lose some, get some good wins and then lose to people we shouldn't have. Now we're winning a lot more."

Success followed a series of changes the Bryans made in their game in the past 10 months.

Mike worked to improve the power and accuracy of his serve, Bob on returning serve, especially from the backhand side. They also switched positions, with Bob moving to the ad (left-side) court and Mike to the deuce (right-side) court. The move has made their forehands more effective, especially on opponents' second serves.

A more businesslike approach has also helped the Oxnard Rio Mesa High graduates and lifelong residents of Camarillo.

"Now we're focusing on a match, playing it and leaving it at that," Bob Bryan said. "I think we're a little more fresh and relaxed."

In perhaps the most important move, the twins hired Craig Edwards, a 43-year-old former player at Pepperdine, as their traveling coach.

Results were apparent almost immediately.

"People are expecting us to win the big matches now. That's a new kind of pressure for us," Mike Bryan said. "But we've always dreamed of being one of the top doubles teams in the world, and it's all part of the package."

The Bryans have always been a package deal.

The sons of the former Kathy Blake, a touring pro on the women's circuit in the 1960s, and Wayne Bryan, a former co-owner and general manager of Cabrillo Racquet Club in Somis, Mike and Bob were steered toward tennis careers almost by default.

There were no video games and no television in the Bryan house, so instead the twins played tennis--and music. These days, the twins head The Bryan Bros. Band, perform at ATP and charity events, and own a 60-inch television that they rarely watch because of travel demands.

The Bryans' parents stood firm behind a family policy that forbade the twins from playing each other in junior tournaments, causing Mike and Bob to alternate defaults to each other whenever they were to meet. That changed when U.S. Tennis Assn. officials requested that they face each other once they became members of the USTA junior national team in 1995.

"Every kid dreams of being No. 1 in the world," Wayne Bryan explained. "Well, how could they both have that dream and grow up to be No. 1 in the world if they're not even No.1 in their own bedroom?"

As pros, the brothers have played each other three times, with Mike winning twice.

Although anxious to improve their singles play and rankings, the Bryans do their best work together.

They won consecutive 18-and-under division national clay-court and hard-court titles in 1995 and 1996, held several No. 1 national rankings in doubles in their junior careers and won the NCAA doubles title at Stanford in 1998.

"People are aware they're going to have a tough match when they play these guys now," Edwards said. "I just think they've gotten into some momentum, enjoyed the wave, and ridden it."

They are riding high as they prepare for the U.S. Open and stay in contention for the Davis Cup team.

The Bryans and Wimbledon champions Don Johnson and Jared Palmer are the primary contenders for doubles spots. Patrick McEnroe, however, can choose any mix of players for the match against India's Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who are fourth in the ATP doubles race.

The U.S. must beat India to qualify for world group play next year and be eligible to win the 2002 Davis Cup.

"My interest is in putting together the team that I think gives us the best possible chance to beat India. The doubles is obviously not an easy choice," McEnroe said.

The U.S. Open looms large.

"It's really important," Bob Bryan said. "We're trying to really gear up for that, but still not put too much pressure on ourselves. Hopefully it'll all come together there."

If it does, it won't be because they used mirrors.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°