MILL VALLEY, CALIF. — Inside Tennis caught up with the No. 1-ranked Bryan Bros. at the Esurance Classic, held Sept. 24-25 at The Club at Harbor Point in Mill Valley, Calif. Their upset loss in the opening round of the U.S. Open behind them, Bob and Mike reflected on an otherwise standout year and looked ahead to the Feb. 10-12, 2012 first-round tie against Switzerland.
INSIDE TENNIS: Pretty brutal Davis Cup draw. You got Switzerland.
BOB BRYAN: It’s a tough draw. There are other teams we’d like to play, and we’d like to play at home, but you can’t do anything about it. You do the best with the draw you’re dealt. We’ll go over there and give ’em hell.
MIKE BRYAN: This is one of the tougher teams, if Federer plays, and Wawrinka. Two potentially top 10 guys. They’re a good doubles team also. Bob’s got the baby on the way, so we’ll see…
IT: What’s the due date?
BB: January 28.
MB: That’s the final of the Aussie Open.
IT: Bad planning.
MB: Terrible planning.
BB: We weren’t planning.
IT: No twins?
BB: One girl.
IT: I hear you guys visited San Quentin and played tennis with some of the inmates. What was that like?
BB: It was definitely a unique experience, something that we’ve never done and will probably never do again. But we’ll never forget it.
MB: We didn’t know what to think. This is something you see on TV and in movies all the time. Usually, they portray it in a pretty harsh light. When those gates slammed right behind us, we were shaken. It was tough. We weren’t walking around with armed guards. That was the amazing thing. We just walked down into the yard and saw the sniper towers. We were in the general population with the inmates, which was crazy — guys shirtless, lifting weights, tattoos. The court is right in the center. These guys were so cool. They all knew about out U.S. Open loss. Guys were talking about how they lost cigarettes. They bet on our matches. They know all the rankings. They’re like historians of tennis. They were energetic. They asked about tennis. They were all very respectful. They did the drills. They tried hard. It was kind of heartwarming. They wanted us to have a positive experience. They wanted us to go out, leave the prison and tell the world that these guys are good people. I’m sure they’ve all done brutal things in the past, but they want to better themselves. We saw a totally different side.
IT: They won’t negotiate if you’re taken hostage. What was that like to hear?
MB: You’re stuck.
BB: You’re on your own.
IT: You mentioned your U.S. Open loss. I’m sure that was hard to swallow, but you did win a pair of Slams this year. How do you assess your year?
MB: It’s still a great year. Six titles so far. We’re in a good spot to finish No. 1. It the biggest lead we’ve ever had at this point in the year. We’re up 3,500 points or so.
BB: Point-wise, it’s been a great year. Obviously, we would have liked to do better at the Open, but we’ve never won three Slams in a year. We’ll take two.
MB: On a positive, we’ve had the longest break we’ve ever had. We had 20 days on no exhibitions, nothing. We’ve just been flat-lining at home, which might help us finish strong.
IT: You felt like you needed that?
BB: Yeah. We went right from Wimbledon to Davis Cup to World TeamTennis.
MB: We never really got out feet under us.
BB: We played in eight cities all over the country.
IT: There’s still some ball to play, but what grade would you give yourselves?
MB: I’d say an A-minus.
BB: Yeah. We’ll be happy if we finish No. 1. That’ll put a positive spin on everything.
IT: When you’re up against a player like Ivo Karlovic, such a dangerous floater, there’s not much you can do.
MB: There’s stuff you can do. It is unsettling to know that he’s going to hold every time and you have only one chance to break. But if you take care of your serve, the worst-case scenario is you’ll get to a breaker. We didn’t take car of our serves.
IT: How do you assess the doubles game at the moment? There aren’t too many names after Bob and Mike Bryan.
BB: You’ve still got a lot of the great doubles specialists who are at the tail-end of their careers. Some of them are fading a little bit. They’ll be one of two more years of the stronger doubles guys, then we might be in limbo for a little bit. We’re looking for the next big doubles name.
IT: You and your father we really the driving forces behind the modern doubles game. Are you concerned that, once you hang it up, it might be problematic?
MB: We’ll definitely try to be as strong a voice for doubles even when we do retire. We d want to see doubles maintain its strong position in the sport’s history. We don’t want some cowboy as CEO or on the board and brush doubles under the mat. There’s just to much great history. We hope there’s an exciting team that comes along and grabs the torch from us when we do start to decline and leave the game. It does take marquee names to put doubles on the map.
IT: You guys do so many exos and fundraisers, interacting with club players. Give us a couple of quick tips for the 4.0 team that’s going for the sectional championship.
BB: Get all over the net. That’s our secret. That’s our secret sauce. We try to get as close to the net as possible and hot the easy volleys. You don’t hit hard volleys when you’re two feet from the net. And in doubles, you want to get that first serve in. You hit a lot of body serves. Take the wide misses out of it and try to serve in the 70 percent range.
MB: Return up the line early in the match. When you poach, poach diagonally. Don’t go lateral. You want to move forward. And use signals. Tell your partner where you’re going to serve and where you’re going to return, so you can anticipate.
IT: What about control in the middle?
MB: Control in the middle is huge. You want to reinforce the middle and hit a lot of balls in the middle, too. We have a put-away volley where we go right down the middle.
IT: What about emotion management, dealing with errors…
MB: Never roll your eyes at your partner. You’ve got to be a good actor out on the court. Make your partner feel great, and make your opponents feel like you’re really confident.
IT: What’s key at crunch time?
BB: Just believing in yourself. You’ve got to rise up. You’ve got to love the moment, learn to love the pressure, thrive on it, and somehow find a way to relax. Just go back to your rituals.
IT: You’ve had some many big wins in your career, and hit some big shots? Are there one or two big shots, big points that stick out for you?
MB: One of them came in 2003 in Houston. We were down match point against [Martin] Dam and [Cyril] Suk in the first round-robin match. We were going for No. 1 and had to win the match. Somehow Bob ended up at the net…
BB: I dove for a ball…
MB: He dove for a drop shot and the racket flew out of his hand.
BB: I was lying on the ground. I was out of the point.
MB: I’m on the baseline running alley to alley. I hit six shots, one ally to the other alley and finally hit a winner. We ended up coming back and winning that game and breaking them to win the match. We went on to win the tournament and finish No. 1. That was a turning point in our career.
IT: What did you think of Novak Djokovic’s gamble of a return down two match points against Roger Federer in the U.S. Open semis?
BB: He kind of, in a weird way, conceded the match at 40-15. That was almost a flail. That’s a shot you hit when you’re down and you’ve got nothing to lose. It was a Hail Mary.
MB: No. He wasn’t lucky, because he’s put in the hard work. He can make those. I bet you he makes that nine out of 10 times.
BB: No. To hit in on the line that hard — that’s geometrically almost impossible. He was in a weird place at that point, mentally. I think his head was a little scrambled and he just went for broke, not caring. Then he somehow turned it around.
IT: He’s had such an incredible run this year. Have you ever seen anything quit like it?
BB: I don’t think it’ll ever be done again, this type of consistency against these types of players. He’s beaten Nadal six times, Federer four.
MB: he’s doing this against two of the greatest players of all time.
BB: It can be considered the best year of all time. He can still finish strong. He should maybe just shut it down. [Laughs.] He shouldn’t have played Davis Cup. He doesn’t get tired. He moves better than Nadal now. He doesn’t have any holes.
MB: And he’s had a lot of luck. You need a lot of luck, too. With that forehand in Miami, he beat Nadal 7-6 in the third. The Murray match in Rome was big. Murray served for it. Everything’s gone right. The Davis Cup win [in 2020] released a lot of pressure for him. And his serve has gotten a lot better.
IT: Once you have that Davis Cup win, something changes…
MB: He felt like he did it for his country. That released a big amount of pressure.
IT: Did that happen to you when you snapped the Woodies’ record in L.A.?
BB: Yeah. We went on a roll, too.
IT: I hear you were fined for an off-court incident after your loss in New York. What was that all about?
MB: I wish I could say. It’s under review, under appeal…Obviously, I’m a little shocked. We were signing autographs and we were walking off the court. It was a post-match verbal exchange with an umpire.
IT: It must have been something big. You got hit with a $10,000 fine and Serena Williams, for her outburst, was only hit with a $2,000 fine.
MB: It was a shocking amount. That’s why I appealed. I’ll let you know when I find out.
IT: Bob, what’s the best advice on parenting you’ve received so far?
BB: Don’t read books on it. Just wing it.