The Bryan Brothers: The Crate and Barrel Boys

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With their victory over Nicolas Mahut and Michael Llodra in the men's doubles final of the French Open last month, Bob and Mike Bryan are now one step away from completing a Golden Slam. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.

By Bill Simons

Shush!

Don’t tell anyone.

The dandy story that few folks are talking about is that the Bryan brothers are on a roll. Yes, they lost a couple of Davis Cup matches—the sky is falling—and endured a mini-slump in April. But aside from that, since losing last year at Wimbledon, they have been collecting trophies like a kid squirrels away Derek Jeter cards: the Olympic Gold, the US Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open, as well as titles in Sydney, Memphis, (at last) Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome, and London’s Queen’s Club.

The boys are now the only doubles team to have won each major twice. They are halfway to winning a calendar Grand Slam, and if they take Wimbledon, they can claim “The Bryan Golden Slam,” having won the Olympic gold and four majors in a row.

“I think we are hitting our peak right now,” says Mike. “We’ve never been this dominant. We’re doing everything well.”

Bob then offers a verbal poach. “We’re closing down the holes. There are not a lot of things teams can pick on. Our confidence is high. Our bodies feel great.”

Mike notes that doubles is a complex game, with lots of “fine skills, movements and mutations” that take a lot of time to master. Of course, perhaps their greatest asset is that they have hung in together despite some sometimes nasty battles and blow-outs. “We’re learning what works for us,” he says, “in the gym, on the practice court, and at the restaurants as far as diet.”

Serious stuff, but as Bob says, “Periods like this are a blast. People are congratulating you, the trophies are piling up. It feels great.”

Mike quickly offers a cautionary note. “You’ve got to enjoy these times, because Mother Tennis always comes back to bite you,” he observes. “We felt her sting in April. She got us bad, three times in a row. That month was very dark. We had our heads down and were disappointed. We thought we would never win again, but you are only as good as your last match. In tennis, people forget. So we stepped away. We were getting a run of crappy cards. We compared it to blackjack. You are putting your chips out and you are getting beat by a run of cold cards and you have to go over to the next table and get a new dealer. We were playing fine, but sometimes it’s not meant to be. So we’ll see how long this run lasts. We know it’s not going to last forever, and once you lose, everyone forgets.”

Simply put, the Bryans have done something that no other twins, no other brothers—no other players, in fact—can claim. They have singlehandedly—well, make that “double-handedly”—forged the modern doubles game. No other team has been so dedicated and has so mastered the art form. The brothers are a force as they travel the tennis world, gathering a title in Melbourne today, checking into a suite at the Carlton in Paris tomorrow, with a hefty entourage including coaches, wives, and a kid.

It wasn’t always that way. With wry smiles, they recall their days of slumming it at Paris’ Pierre Vacannes, which they say, with its dark almost ominous hallways, was like the Bates Motel with a French accent. There, the towels were paper-thin. The rock-like mattresses were so uninviting that the boys shoved them aside and slept on the floor. As for breakfast, the menu began and ended with corn pops. How exciting.

Well, flash forward 14 years and now the Bryans stay in pricey suites and claim a collection of records that could make even the most somber statistician beam: most Slams (14); most tournaments won (90); and most years finishing as No. 1 (eight). But it’s their Olympic Gold that means the most. “That’s the best trophy,” Bob notes. “That high lasted a few months. When people come to the house, they don’t want to see the Wimbledon trophy or the Davis Cup, they want to see the gold [medal]. That transcends tennis … That Olympic draw was just nasty. Every team was just dirty … You don’t get any easy outs in the Olympics. We started playing happier. It felt so good. You play great when you feel happy. We had smiles on our faces on the court and in the locker room, and this year has been such a great confidence [boost].”

Of course, the Bryans not-so-secret weapon is their “twin-ness.” They have the same vision. They think in tandem. They move together. They bounce together. They twitch together. For years, they shared the same house and even the same bank account. Yes, as grown men, they now live on different coasts with different families: Bob and his wife Michelle have a daughter, and are expecting a son in December; Mike lives with his British wife in Southern California and London. Still, the boys’ togetherness is so intense that fans were shocked that during their Wimbledon first round match, Bob actually took a bathroom break by himself while Mike remained on court. Goodness, has their bond been broken?

When IT asked the boys for an example of their synchronicity, they replied—almost in one voice—with an astounding tale. “It was just the weirdest thing,” Mike explains. “I called Bob and I’m like, ‘I got a sweet couch.’ He said, ‘Shut up—I’m in a furniture store right now looking for couches.’ And I’m like, ‘Did you get one?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m just checking out now.'”

We were in the same store [Crate & Barrel],” says Bob. “I was in Miami, and Mike was in California.”

The brothers start to recreate their conversation:

“You’re in Crate & Barrel too? Are you going to buy one of these?”

“‘I just bought one.”

“I just bought one, too.” 

“I got this little brown-beige sectional one.”

“You’re s——g me.”

Bob and Mike had bought the exact same couch, in the same color, at the same price—down to the dollar. “It was like The Twilight Zone,” Mike marvels. “It didn’t happen. It’s once in a lifetime.”

In tennis, the Bryans are once in a lifetime. Bouncing and brimming with energy, they deliver a feel-good story that doesn’t impose and is easy to digest. Mike notes, “We were born to play doubles together. Even through the juniors, winning Kalamazoo twice, then winning the US Open juniors together … We took the right steps and then won the NCAAs, then started winning Slams and playing Davis Cup … The way it evolved has been that our destiny was to play together and we’re still doing it. It’s what we always loved doing, especially as twins—a package deal.”

As for the legacy they want to leave, the boys offer a breathtakingly modest vision.

“We did our best,” Mike says, “to promote the game of doubles when it was struggling, and for people to think we were humble when we were winning, and that we gave most tennis players respect, and that we were good guys in the locker room.”

Bob adds, “Once we leave the game, we don’t want people to say, ‘It’s great that they’re gone’ … [We] just try to be nice to everyone.”

Yes, the twins are nice to everyone, and they have been nice to doubles. The game would not be the same without the Crate and Barrel Boys, without the incomparable Bob and Mike Bryan.