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Column: Has tennis bid an early farewell to the Bryan brothers?

Bob, left, and Mike Bryan celebrate winning the Wimbledon doubles title in 2013.
More hardware appeared in the offing for the 41-year-old Bryan twins — Bob, left, and Mike — until the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly cut short their farewell tour.
(Andy Rain / EPA)

You know that scene from “The Matrix” when Cypher is pulling the plug on his Nebuchadnezzar shipmates and Switch, shaking her head in disbelief, says “not like this ... not like this?” That’s how it felt after Wimbledon was canceled this week. Bad enough that the event was the best shot for Roger Federer and Serena Williams to add to their title collection, but the greatest men’s doubles team of all time lost yet another opportunity to properly say goodbye.

In November, California natives Bob and Mike Bryan announced that the 2020 U.S. Open would be their last appearance on tour. And while U.S. players such as Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters have garnered more attention over the years, this dynamic 41-year-old American duo has won more matches, won more titles and spent more weeks at No. 1. Eventually every great has to say goodbye to the game they love, but not like this. Not with cancellations. And with each one, the farewell tour for the Bryans gets unfairly shorter. An abbreviation, mind you, that began at home with Indian Wells.

“We were looking forward to that one the most,” said Mike, who was born two minutes before his brother in Camarillo. “So when that tournament fell, we were looking forward to Miami because Bob is a South Florida guy and then that thing dropped. Obviously it’s the right decision, but it does sting not being able to thank our hometown fans one last time.”

This year’s Wimbledon has been canceled, wiping out chances for tennis’ Big Three men to hold off the young while a host of story lines are on hold for women.

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Which brings this question: Will they delay retirement so they can get a proper sendoff? Sure they’re in a band, can do TV commentary or star on the senior tour if they like. Those options will always exist for them. The tour will not.

“We haven’t decided,” Bob said. “We had this rigorous plan for saying goodbye and riding the adrenaline from going out there one last time and getting our fill of the tour before transitioning into the next stage of our lives. Now it looks like we’re not going to get most of that fill. What are we going to do if the whole thing gets canned? We did have some stuff we wanted to do on tour and our bodies are feeling good right now, but who knows? A year can make a big difference.”

Ain’t that the truth.

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From the Rams and Dodgers going from championship appearances to not getting close, to the Lakers and Clippers going from not getting close to title favorites, we know firsthand the world of sports is a quick-moving target. A year ago, the twins were straight-set title winners in Miami. Now it appears they will never play there again because of the pandemic. But the pair knows as well as anyone about the dangers and anxiety the virus inspires.

“My wife, Nadia, is pregnant and had a fever one night, so we were super worried about the baby,” Mike said. “We’ve been on lockdown, but we did have construction going on in the house, so we’ve had people inside. Luckily the fever went down, but it was a really scary time for us, especially since this is our first and we didn’t know what was going on.”

His brother Bob had a similar scare.

“We were in town for Nadia’s baby shower and we had a flight out that night, but Michelle [his wife] got sick and was tested. They threw her results out because she didn’t meet all of the criteria, so she ended up quarantining herself in a hotel for a week just to be sure. I was leaving food outside of her hotel door because we have three kids and we were worried. By the time she got better, everything was in full swing as far as the pandemic.

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“Then I got sick and we did a swap. I got a hotel room and she took care of the kids until I was better. It was the first day my wife had ever spent a night away from the kids. That’s how serious we were taking it.”

While it’s unclear when ATP tour play will resume for those of us jonesing for some fresh tennis action, the Bryans did participate last month in an All-Star World Team Tennis competition that is airing Saturday morning on CBS. In addition to the twins, the recently retired Maria Sharapova, along with 2019 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Sam Querrey, Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig and 13th-ranked Madison Keys, are on deck.

“I can see us playing World Team Tennis after retirement, if they would have us,” Bob said. “We really enjoy the format. It’s quick and entertaining and is packaged how tennis should be packaged. I think this league could grow and occupy more of the season. Right now, it’s three weeks. I think it could be two months.”

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The twins made their tour debut in 1995 at the U.S Open. They turned pro in 1998. Bob already had hip surgery that kept him off the court for a large chunk of 2018. During that time, Mike teamed up with fellow American Jack Sock and won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That the Bryans came back to win tournaments, including Miami last year and Delray Beach this year, is a testament to both modern science and their talent. But they do turn 42 later this month.

“During this time there’s a lot of uncertainty and everyone is worried about loved ones and staying healthy, but from the tennis side of things, it’s pretty stress-free,” Bob said. “Everyone is in the same boat. It’s just a matter of how much we have in the tank once we do start playing again.”

Mike too was philosophical about their potential last days.

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“We came into this world together, and we’ll probably go out together, " he said “Figuring out what we are going to do in between is new, unknown, but first we have to figure out what’s left for us on the court. Then we’ll figure out what’s ahead together.”


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