Tennis has had its share of accomplished brother duos. More than 100 years ago, the Dohertys, Reggie and Laurie, won ten major doubles titles. Many other fraternal pairings have shined in the Open era. Sandy and Gene Mayer won Roland Garros in 1979. Fourteen years later, Luke and Murphy accomplished the same feat. Vijay and Anand Amritraj led India to many a Davis Cup triumph. Twins Tim and Tom Gullikson reached the 1983 Wimbledon final. Jamie and Andy Murray each became number one in the world and played together in Davis Cup. John and Patrick McEnroe won two ATP titles together.
But when it comes to sibling symmetry, nothing is on the scale of the Bryan brothers—lefty Bob and righty Mike, born 43 years ago today. For well over 40 years, the boys thought Mike was older by two minutes. But in 2019, a closer review of their birth certificate revealed the opposite.
Nature? Nurture? Both played a role in the massive success these two enjoyed. Father Wayne had been quarterback of his high school football team and lettered in tennis at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Mother Kathy Blake was a world class player, ranked as high as No. 11 in the U.S.
Layered into this was the environment. Bob and Mike grew up in what’s arguably the most tennis-rich region of the world, Southern California. Wayne was co-owner and tennis director of the Cabrillo Racquet Club. He and Kathy took joint responsibility for teaching the boys all the nuances of the game – not just raw power but such subtleties as transition play, finesse and the subtle geography of the doubles court.
Wayne was also a big believer in giving young players the chance to see great tennis up close. Frequent caravans trekked to nearby matches at such tennis powerhouses as UCLA, USC, Pepperdine – cars loaded not just with Bob and Mike, but dozens of Cabrillo Racquet Club members and others. While many ambitious young tennis players and their families treat the sport as a solo exercise, right from the start, Bob and Mike saw themselves as part of a community. That collaborative and inclusive quality later made them exemplary professionals, the two topping the charts when it came to everything from signing autographs to clinics, interviews, and sponsor visits.
One exceptionally memorable journey came in February 1990, when Bob and Mike, eleven years old at the time, attended a Davis Cup tie played just north of San Diego. During that trip they had the chance to spend time with another Southern California-raised prodigy, Rick Leach. The three of them compared notes on various sectional tournaments, including an upcoming one the brothers were due to play in Long Beach. All of this inspired the brothers. If they were playing in the same tournaments where the great Leach had competed, why not eventually represent America in Davis Cup play?
In time, all of their dreams came true – from high national junior rankings to NCAA titles at Stanford to a rapid rise into the pro ranks. In 2003, at Roland Garros, Bob and Mike won their first of what would be a men’s record 16 major doubles titles – two in Paris, three at Wimbledon, five at the US Open, six at the Australian Open. Added to this was an Olympic gold medal, earned at the 2012 Games. All told, they would pair up to earn a record 119 ATP doubles titles. In 2018, when Bob was recovering from a hip injury, Mike joined forces with Jack Sock to win Wimbledon and the US Open, his career total of 18 Slams the most of any man in tennis history. Each also shined in mixed doubles, Mike winning four majors, Bob taking seven.
Their choreography was staggering – the tennis equivalent of two people so familiar with one another they can start and finish one another’s sentences. Such assets as Bob’s lefty serve and Mike’s crisp returns often instantly put the two in charge of a point. Added to that were sharp volleys, first-rate overheads and, perhaps most of all, a swarm-like energy and intensity, honed through hour after hour of thorough practice sessions.
Never was all of the Bryans’ skill more vividly demonstrated than when they played in Davis Cup—motivated not just to bring glory for the stars and stripes, but also to showcase their prowess on the rare day when doubles commanded the spotlight. The two compiled a record of 25-5 in Davis Cup play.
No doubt their greatest moment came on December 1, 2007. The setting was Portland, Oregon—scene of the Davis Cup final versus Russia. It had been 12 years since the United States team last won the Cup, the longest drought for an American team in history. With the US leading 2-0, Bob and Mike had the chance to clinch it.
Up against the team of Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev, the brothers fought through a tight first set, rallying from 3-1 down in the tiebreaker to win it, 7-4. But after breaking Davydenko to start the second set, they rapidly caught fire, tearing through the next two sets, 6-4, 6-2, closing it out with a decisive volley from Bob.
“I’ve been nauseous for three days,” said Bob. “I’m not going to try to hide that my stomach was doing backflips. I had a circus of monkeys in my stomach just playing tambourine in there.”
“We’ve been working since we were two years old for this one moment,” said Mike.
Light up the candles and imagine the symmetry with which these two will blow them out. Happy Birthday, Bob and Mike.