Monday, August 6, 2012
Bryan brothers digging the gold
By Bonnie D. Ford ESPN.com
LONDON -- Several tennis greats came into this Summer Games with a chance to join very elite company: The Golden Slam club, whose only members before competition began at the All England Club were Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal. The phrase refers to a career sweep of all four Grand Slam events plus the Olympic championship.
Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer didn't disguise their ambition to break down the door. Williams accomplished her mission Saturday at Sharapova's expense, dispatching her with ease. Federer was denied Sunday afternoon by Great Britain's favorite son: Andy Murray.
The Bryan brothers' joined-at-the-hip journey got a little sweeter with the one thing their overflowing résumé was missing.
As elated as Williams was, and as badly as Federer wanted to add this accomplishment to his résumé, it's hard to imagine anyone happier to get the job done than American twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who aren't sure how many more chances they might have.
The Bryans had legions of people rooting for them to capture the only important title that has slipped through their racket strings, which they did Saturday with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) defeat of French tandem Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The brothers are congenial, genuine ambassadors, perpetually energetic and never too busy to connect with fans or promote doubles, which can get lost amid the bright constellations of singles superstars. Even Bob's baby daughter, Micaela, has a following -- a Twitter following of 5,500 for entries that are often posted in comic-book format.
Mike Bryan, the righty in the duo, jumped so high into his slightly taller, left-handed brother's arms after match point that it looked as if he would topple him. The two remained dry-eyed through the medal ceremony, but don't be fooled -- this was one of the most emotional moments in their joined-at-the-hip journey.
"There's no bigger match we'd rather win than that one,'' Bob said. "Centre Court, Wimbledon, for our country, for each other. We're 34 years old, and we've played tennis since we were 2 years old. That's a lot of balls going across the net, and this is it. This is the top of the mountain.''
Mike called the medal ceremony "surreal."
"We were trying to savor it, taking pictures in our mind to tell our grandkids,'' he said.
The brothers have done everything there is to do in their corner of the sport. They own the marks for career match wins and doubles titles. They are approaching a total of 300 weeks as the world's top-ranked team and have won all four Grand Slam events, three of them at least twice. They helped propel the U.S Davis Cup team to a championship in 2007. They've also finished as the ATP year-end No. 1 team seven times.
Yet for whatever reason, the balls never bounced the right way for them at the Olympics, and they had a bronze medal to show for their two previous appearances. Before arriving in London, the two did a photo shoot for a sponsor who asked them to don replica medals. They hesitated for superstitious reasons, but eventually agreed.
Having the real one around his neck feels so good that Bob insisted he will wear it until he gets home to Florida, even if airport security asks otherwise.
"If I pull out of Toronto with a strained neck, you'll know why,'' Bob said, referring to an upcoming ATP event. "I'm not going to take it off. I think the guy will understand.''
"We could end tomorrow and we're going to be happy for the rest of our lives,'' Mike said. But that wasn't the plan. For one thing, Mike played for a bronze medal in the first-ever Olympic mixed-doubles tournament with partner Lisa Raymond and won. And the brothers intend to aim for the 2016 Rio Games, health permitting.