MELBOURNE, Australia -- If Bob and Mike Bryan could put any positive spin on their earliest exit from the Australian Open in 11 years, it's that their loss shows how competitive the doubles game has become -- and perhaps how wrong John McEnroe was in his assessment of it.
The Bryans, the top seeds and defending champions, lost in the third round Monday to American Eric Butorac and South African Raven Klaasen 7-6 (9), 6-4.
"We like coming down here and starting the year hot and I don't think we played terribly," Mike Bryan said. "It's just the margins are really small."
The brothers have been practically invincible at the Australian Open -- six of their 15 Grand Slam titles have come here, and they've reached the final nine of the last 10 years. They haven't lost before the quarterfinals since 2003.
But they said the loss illustrates the depth of the doubles game and how much tougher the top teams have become thanks to better conditioning, equipment, strategies and coaching.
"I feel like the game's being played at a pretty high level by a lot of good teams," Bob Bryan said. "The old days of just enjoying the pro tennis lifestyle without fully committing yourself is completely in the past."
His comments stand in stark contrast to the opinions voiced by McEnroe last month in an interview with The Times of London, in which he questioned why doubles is still being played at the majors and said today's doubles players are "the slow guys who aren't quick enough to play singles."
"Most of you guys know I love doubles. But I look at it now and say, what is this? I don't even recognize what this is," McEnroe, who won seven Grand Slam singles titles as well as major doubles crowns, was quoted as saying.
"Obviously, we didn't agree with what he said," Bob Bryan said. His brother added: "I'm pretty sure it was a rogue interview where he just went on a rant."
The Bryans said they spoke with McEnroe for about 45 minutes about the interview and characterized it as a "good conversation," though they don't think they changed his mind.
"The game is played a lot different than when he was on the tour," Bob Bryan said. "It's probably harder for him to appreciate what's going on."
The Bryans were the second marquee team taken out by Butorac and Klaasen, who have only been partners for four months. They defeated crowd favorites Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter, who came out of retirement at the age of 41 to play doubles at the Australian Open, in the first round.
Butorac joked that he and Klaasen almost never became a team after a potential set-up -- sort of like a blind date -- went badly.
"Someone actually suggested, `I think Raaven would be a good partner for you," Butorac said. "I went to go watch his match, thinking this could be my guy, and he was awful. And I was like forget that."
Now they're into the quarters of a Grand Slam.
"We played so many doubles matches on back courts in front of small crowds," Butorac said. "We finally get to be on a big arena, let's embrace it."