Perhaps it's their time spent playing in rock bands where screaming audiences are just part of the party or maybe it's their experience dodging ornery frat guys trying to douse their baseball caps with beers during college matches against rabid rivals. Whatever the reason, the Bryan Brothers sure seem to revel in the opportunity to take their chest-bumping brand of attacking tennis on the road.
The top-ranked twins took their proactive play to old nemesis Michael Llodra and partner Julien Benneteau and took the French fans out of the match issuing an imposing 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4) doubles victory to lift the United States to within one win of a quarterfinal conquest of France. John Isner will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a clash of the nations' No. 1 players tomorrow with a shot to send the USA into the semifinals.
Even the most experienced champions can sometimes crack and burn when exposed to the competitive cauldron that is a Davis Cup road match, one of the few times in tennis fans aren't always admonished to sit down and shut up. Stepping onto the red clay of the Monte Carlo Country Club, the Bryan brothers had cause for concern as Llodra and past partner Arnaud Clement handed the twins their last Davis Cup defeat four years ago in a four-set quarterfinal win on hard court in Winston-Salem. But the brothers often bring their best tennis in the opponent's house. Crowd participation — even the confrontational kind — seems to spike their energy level. They did not face a break point in raising their Davis Cup road record to 10-0 with a 10-0 mark together in Davis Cup matches on dirt.
The Bryans beat the French pair to the ball and their movement without the ball — poaching at the right times and moving in unison as if connected by a cord — spooked Benneteau and Llodra in the opening game. Benneteau bricked a volley wide and Llodra double faulted to hand the Americans the break. Llodra, who struggled to make returns all day, shanked a return wide as Bob Bryan closed the 37-minute first set in which the twins permitted only five points on serve.
Benneteau and Llodra lost their only prior Davis Cup clay match together a year ago in Austria and surrendered serve to start the second set as Benneteau pushed a backhand volley wide. The Bryans made the break stand. They did not face a deuce point on serve until 4-5 in the third set when left-handed Bob held to level. France earned the first mini-break in the tie break, but three straight rapid-fire volley winners from the Americans gave them a 5-3 lead.
"We took care of our serves and ran a lot of plays — we were doing full switches which we usually don't do — and I think that threw them off a bit," Mike Bryan told DavisCup.com's Craig Gabriel.
Isner and Tsonga have split two meetings with both matches decided in decisive-set breakers. If Tsonga levels, 13th-ranked Gilles Simon will play 66th-ranked rookie Ryan Harrison in the decisive fifth match. Get ready for drama.