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Friday, August 30, 2013
Two down, four to go for Bryans

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Mark Woodforde, wearing a lavender polo shirt with a Roland Garros logo, sits in one of the small interview cubicles at the media center and talks passionately about the sport he still loves more than almost anything.

The amiable Aussie is one half of the greatest doubles team ever (along with Todd Woodbridge) -- before Bob and Mike Bryan broke all the Woodies' records. The Bryans are sitting on 15 Grand Slam doubles titles and 92 titles all told, compared to 11 and 61, respectively, for Woodbridge and Woodforde. Nevertheless, he's talking with unfeigned enthusiasm about the epic history within their grasp.

"It's tangible for Mike and Bob, really within reach -- in a way it wasn't, really, for us," he said. "Tennis as a sport should be making a bigger deal about this. Even though it is only doubles. It's like singles is always the priority and doubles is this ugly stepchild.

"If a singles player was doing this … I mean, what was the year that Sedgie did it?

That would be 1951.

Woodforde sighs and shakes his head.

"I mean, please," he said, voice trailing off. "If it was that freakin' easy, why hasn't somebody done it on the singles court?"

It being the calendar-year doubles Grand Slam.

The Bryan Brothers currently hold all three major titles for 2013 -- plus the Olympics and last year's US Open. Frank "Sedgie" Sedgman and Ken McGregor are the last team to do it, some 62 years ago.

Friday evening, the Bryans dispatched Eric Butorac and Frederik Nielsen 6-3, 6-2 to reach the third round.

Counting the last four majors, the Olympics and a 2-0 start here, the Bryans have now won 31 consecutive matches in the monster tournaments.

Woodforde, calling matches for the combined forces of DirecTV and ESPN3, knows all about the pressure and expectation the Bryans are facing.

"I've had some discussions with them about this," he said. "You start off and accumulate from your first tournament win to the next-level tournament win and then your Slams. You say to yourself, 'This is going really well.' And then you get called in to do press at the end of the tournament and you're all chuffed [pumped up] and someone in the media says, 'You know what? You're only three away from of breaking this record.'

"And then you break that record and you're sitting there again and they say, 'Well, to break this record, you need to win two more Grand Slams.'

"It's a never-ending cycle of achievement."

Woodforde again shook his head.

"But this is the exclamation as far as I'm concerned," he added. "They've already broken all the records. This is the ultimate."

When the Woodies were on top of the doubles world in the mid-1990s, Woodforde said they actually discussed the possibility of a Grand Slam. They won both Wimbledon and the US Open in 1995 and 1996, but the clay of Roland Garros was not conducive to their style of play.

"We thought we could possible do it," Woodforde said. "We're world No. 1 and we're winning consistently. Really, we were trying to elevate. Those are the records you're searching for. But unfortunately, obviously, the French Open was our hoodoo. It ended up being the one. We finally won it later after the big runs."

In 2000, the Woodies finally won their only French Open title and followed it up with the Wimbledon championship -- but they failed to win the Australian Open or the US Open that year. Three years earlier was the closest they came to a calendar Slam, winning the Aussie and Wimbledon and reaching the final in Paris. Their 1997 US Open result underlines how difficult the Bryans' task actually is.

Woodbridge and Woodforde lost a first-round match in New York, to Tom Kempers and Menno Oosting. Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Jonas Bjorkman were the winners that year.

Woodforde's run with DirecTV comes to an end next Monday. He's likely headed back home to Rancho Mirage, Calif.

"My primary goal was to stay to the end," he said. "I looked into getting some more work to stay to the end, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

"To me, it's [the Grand Slam] happening. Todd and I should be here -- we're the team from before -- but don't think we will.

"I'll be watching at home, though. Best of luck to them."