After their semifinal victory — on the Fourth of July, no less — these 35-year-old identical twins from California are one win away from becoming the first team in the history of Open-era tennis to hold all four major titles at the same time.
“The Bryan Slam,” they’ll call it, but don’t look for that news to knock baseball, hot-dog-eating contests or Andy Murray out of the headlines in either the United States or Britain.
The Bryan brothers play doubles, and despite their history making success, they live in a world where their games aren’t fully appreciated and fame is hard to come by.
“The hardcore tennis fan loves doubles, but the casual sports fan doesn’t know enough about it,” Mike Bryan said. “They love stars. Doubles players aren’t stars.”
If their list of accomplishments belonged to a singles player, they’d be considered among the best of all time.
—Their 14 Grand Slam tournament titles would tie them for second with Pete Sampras.
—Their 310 weeks at No. 1 would be eight more than Roger Federer’s record.
—Their 90 tournament titles would rank third behind Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
Instead, they must “settle” for holding the record for doubles in all those categories. They’ve raked in more than $20 million in prize money over their 15 years as pros and have gone 21-3 in Davis Cup matches — a near sure thing for a country that, for the first time in 101 years, didn’t have a male singles player in the third round of Wimbledon and also saw its last woman go out Wednesday.
Quite a resume. Place them outside a tennis tournament, however, and usually, they can walk down the street in peace.
“It’s the names and the stars,” said Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time major golf champion, who was at Wimbledon this week and watched the Bryans play. “The singles players are really good, no question about that. If the doubles players were good enough, they’d be playing singles. To a large degree, I think that’s the way most people look at it.”
Though it struggles for air time, doubles can be plenty entertaining — the last bastion of 21st-century tennis where a net game, teamwork and a couple of reflex volleys can still carry the day. Nearly two-thirds of frequent recreational players in the U.S. play doubles, according to the most recent study by the U.S. Tennis Association. At the pro level, it can be quite an entertaining show, as was the brothers’ 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory Thursday over the newly formed team of India’s Rohan Bopanna and France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
“I think they get overlooked and I think the top current singles players very, very seldom play doubles,” said Pam Shriver, whose 8½-year partnership with Martina Navratilova produced 20 Grand Slam titles. “I think doubles have always taken a back seat since Open tennis and prize money settled it all.”