NEW YORK -- The margin in elite doubles these days is paper-thin.
Thursday, Mike Bryan was serving at 2-all in the third set and found himself in a daunting 15-40 hole. Somehow, he and twin brother Bob flashed their famously fast hands a few times and escaped and, in what seemed like a few minutes, they were up 5-2.
Being that they are from California, the Bryans -- who have collected 99 doubles titles -- are typically playing this one down.
They call it "a cool number to hit," but 100 doubles titles is more than that. In this age of acute specialization, it's a monumental feat.
And at the age of 36, there are likely to be considerably more. These days, doubles players are effective into their 40s.
"It's amazing when you think about all that they've done," said ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe, who called the match and will do the final with Hall of Fame broadcaster Cliff Drysdale. "That would be awfully sweet for them."
Mind-boggling is another way to put it.
ESPN.com tennis editor Matt Wilansky and senior writer Greg Garber were having a (sometimes heated) discussion about the level of this soon-to-be-achieved feat. They were assisted by ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, who invested considerable time and energy searching through her personal archives for other tennis numbers that may never come our way again. Buckle up and hunker down for the latest Baseline Buzz.
Greg Garber: Now, of course, Shriver is biased because she played doubles with Martina Navratilova, but you have to agree, Mr. Wilansky, that 344 is a massive, almost unfathomable figure. That's the total of WTA singles (167) and doubles (177) Navratilova won in her career. John McEnroe, at 155 (77 and 78, respectively), is the best on the men's side. Shriver and Navratilova, by the way, won the same number (78) together as a doubles team.
Matt Wilansky: Wow, where do we start? I can tell you this: Vince Spadea's record 21-match losing streak from 1999 to the summer of 2000 likely won't make the cut, so I am going with the number two -- or the total of calendar Grand Slams the great Rod Laver won in his career. To put that in perspective, not Jimmy Connors, not Peter Sampras, not Roger Federer, not Rafael Nadal and certainly not Spadea ever accomplished this feat once. No men's player in the 46 years of Open era tennis has. Laver swept all four Slams in 1962 and 1969. Since then, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf have done it on the women's side.
Greg Garber: Laver's feat was undeniably great, but not golden. In 1988, Graf became the only player in the history of this game to win all four majors -- and the Olympics in a single season, an achievement feted today as the Golden Slam. Graf, only 25 at the time, had yet to cement her place among the all-time greats at that point, but she'd build off her sublime season and go on to win 22 majors, four more than two players you may have heard of, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf.
Matt Wilansky: And if you're scoring at home, another recognizable athlete, Andre Agassi, also owns all four majors and an Olympic gold, though his trophies came over a period of seven years. And now from the court to a cozy courtship, they are tennis' most famous love couple. For Navratilova, though, she wasn't garnering much love from her opponents in 1984 when the Czech-born star won a record 74 straight matches. From Jan. 20-Dec. 6 in 1984. she lost not one match. How does that happen? An entire record book could be dedicated to Navratilova, including her unfathomable 109-match winning streak in doubles with Shriver.
Greg Garber: And to put the Bryans doubles accomplishment in context, consider that the next-best total in ATP history is 61, belonging to the Australian team of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. It also makes you appreciate what Navratilova did even more. I mean, 177 doubles titles? Shriver, who has 106 total doubles titles, has a seven-title lead in the Bryans. "Not for long," she said. "They'll catch me in the middle of next year. But they'll never get to Martina."
Matt Wilansky: Nor will anyone ever get to Vicki Nelson and Jean Hepner, who, impossibly, played a point that lasted 643 shots. That rally alone lasted 29 minutes, which is one minute longer than the entire Jarkko Nieminen-Bernard Tomic 28-minute match last year at the Sony Open (the shortest match since the ATP starting tracking time).
Greg Garber: Speaking of minutes (pretty clever transition, eh?), how about the 665 on-court minutes of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut four years ago at Wimbledon? That one produced all kinds of epic numbers. The score was 70-68 in the fifth set (that 138 is another untouchable) and they held serve for 168 consecutive games. The match total was 183 and the ace total a staggering 216 -- Isner had 113, Mahut 103. We won't be seeing that again in our lifetime, sir.
Matt Wilansky: Nor will we be seeing those epically horrific returns of serve. Understandably, Isner crashed out in three swift sets in the next round, unlike Rafael Nadal, who won his second Wimbledon title that year. But Rafa's made his money on the cloying clay courts of Roland Garros. A few months ago, he won his unprecedented ninth championship in Paris, which is more titles than any other player has at any tournament on the ATP Tour. It should be noted that Navratilova won nine titles at Wimbledon.
Greg Garber: OK, here's three more untouchables from Rafa's chief rival: 23 and 36 and 237. Those are (1) the consecutive Grand Slam semifinals that Federer reached, (2) consecutive quarterfinals he made and (3) the number of consecutive weeks that he was the ATP World Tour's No. 1 player. Ludicrous, really.
Matt Wilansky: And there's this slice of history: Fed is also the only player in history to have won five consecutive titles at two different majors (Wimbledon, 2003-2007; US Open, 2004-2008). He's also the only player to have won three Slam titles in a calendar year on three occasions. Phenomenal feats, which likely won't be touched for some time. But back to Graf: I think we can both agree no one will ever match perhaps her most unassailable accomplishment. She's the only player in history who has won all four majors at least four times. Insane stuff.
Greg Garber: And one final offering from Shriver: Three. That's the number of Maleeva sisters who reached the WTA's top 10 during their careers. In one week in June 1993, Manuela, Magdalena and Katerina were ranked Nos. 11, 12 and 13. Did you hear that, Bob and Mike? Maybe four kids in the top 10? Sounds like a worthy second-generation goal.