It really wasn’t a big deal, but it isn’t a distinction you really want.
Bob and Mike Bryan lost the last match ever on Louis Armstrong Stadium. It was an unhappy marker in a season in which they didn’t play the Olympics, lost in the Davis Cup in July and failed to claim a Slam. There last Slam victory came at the 2014 US Open. After their loss to Marc and Feliciano Lopez they sat down with the press and had a soul-searching conversation.
Do you feel better at this point in the year than earlier, do you feel like better things could come? What’s your thought on where you are?
It feels good, feels like we’re having fun. It’s frustrating not walking away with a Slam this year and there were opportunities squandered. But there’s no reason why we can’t have a good fall. Injuries are behind us, and it feels like there could be a breakthrough. We’ll see.
This year it feels like there are segments. Coming off the off-season we were very optimistic, we’d put in a lot of work. We dealt with a lot of adversity that psychologically was brutal on us. Somehow we turned it around for the clay court season and played some of our best tennis, and then it was rough at the French, that lingered until a few weeks ago when we regrouped and started playing well again. We came here with a good attitude and working hard and did all the right things but we just didn’t get it done. But we’re holding our heads up. We’ve been tough on each other in the past.
If you had to look back at the summer, given how much fun people had at the Olympics and how successful and satisfying it was for some players, do you wish you’d gone?
Olympics is a great thing. The greatest moment of our career was winning gold, and we only have good memories from that experience. It was a decision that we made over a 6-7 day period. Everyone was involved, our parents, wives. We were just trying to do the best for our families and that was the decision we came up with. It was tough to watch on TV, sitting on the couch, but also nice to be home with the family resting, hopefully giving ourselves the best shot of performing well here. I don’t want to second-guess.
There’s no end in sight, so we’re going to keep our foot on the gas.
You’ve been America’s team, the world’s team, tennis’s team. Do you ever feel like the world doesn’t win when you don’t win? You’re the game in doubles.
I like to think we bring some joy to people’s lives when it’s going well and we’re winning matches and we’re entertaining. I don’t want to feel like we carry that burden of breaking people’s hearts…We can send some negative shockwaves when we don’t play our best, but it’s great that we can effect people and bring out those emotions in people still. It’s really why we love to play.
If you could point to one thing, what is it you love about tennis?
Just that it’s a challenge, it’s a process every day. Figuring out a way to improve, and trying to grow. I love the competition. The losses sting, but they make the wins sweeter…It’s something to work at with my brother. It’s what we’ve done.
Do you have an appreciation of how your play brings people together and gives them joy?
Yeah. When all’s said and done it’s about giving back. You’ve got to give back to the game. That’s basically what we’re out there doing.
As the losses get tougher, does it make you ever look back and say, maybe then it was too easy, when we were winning?
As the competition gets stiffer and the top of the game gets more equal, it makes you step back and really appreciate what we did for 10, 15 years. After feeling what we’ve felt the last couple of years, it’s hard to believe that we were able to dominate for so long. This game is difficult and it feels difficult right now, that’s for sure. We do feel like we can get that back. Maybe we’re lying to ourselves, but we believe in each other, and we do think there is a path ahead of us.
How would you rate the overall quality of the doubles game compared to earlier in your career?
These are all the same guys we’ve been playing against. There’re no new guys. We played [Nicolas] Mahut in 2004 here…It’s a lot of the same faces and that sometimes makes it even tougher. We probably beat them 30 times in a row. Our first loss against them was in the French Open. Why did that happen? Our second loss out of thirty matches is today. That does keep you up at night. You try to figure out why, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
Do you think they’ve caught up to you because you haven’t had a year to your standards?
I’d love to say that but the fact is that we’re probably not…Our career’s had an arc. …We’re going to fight our asses off to finish strong and maybe go out at the top. That’s what we’re dreaming of. That’s how everyone wants to go out, like Kobe Bryant and Sampras. The fact is, it’s not always a fairytale.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t dunking in the last few years of his career, but he was trying to figure out ways to make those fade-aways. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re not slam-dunking the ball like we were in our early 30s and 20s. But do we still think we have some other stuff that can hurt the guys? We do, but I don’t know if you guys do.
Why did you decide not to play mixed?
With mixed your heart has to be in it…You have to be real aggressive and physical, poaching and smiling with the girl and you have to be engaged. We don’t treat it as a high priority.
Many of tennis’ greatest stars are going into their final years: Roger, Venus maybe even Nadal. Is that a trend? And is navigating your last years one of the most difficult things you’ve faced?
We’ve held our standards so high. Maybe next year we’ll be content to not win some tournaments, but what makes us great is always expecting to win. Maybe that’ll make it more fun if we go in with less pressure. It feels like every match we play we have to win…
Next year, maybe [we’ll just] let the No. 1 ranking go and try to shoot for the big ones and trim a few weeks to save our bodies.
I don’t think there’s any great plan for retirement. What do you do [about retiring]? Do you announce at the end of the year that you’re going to retire, or do you just retire? It’s hard to know. When we’ve been retired for a year you’ve got to be ready to watch…guys win those titles and not feel like you could be there having a say about it. [Then again] you can go on with your career just 10, 15, 20 [years]… You don’t want to do that either. I have a lot of respect for what we’ve done and don’t want to screw it up.
The ITF is talking about a new Davis Cup format with a final four format at an independent site, without having home team rabid fans. There’ll be time to prepare and market it.
We’d welcome a change to the format. When we won the Davis Cup in ’07 we were playing Austria 30 days later. I think it’d be great for the fans. You don’t have it every year. Especially the year of the Olympics it just felt like everything was just too tight…I think they could figure out, do a Ryder Cup thing, do what [Dave] Haggerty’s talking about, just to modernize it and make it more light.
You are approaching 1,000 wins.
That’s a nice number. We thought we’d hit it a little earlier, but we’ll hit it hopefully in Asia or Europe. That’ll be a good milestone.