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Thursday, March 4, 2010
Bryan brothers imperative to U.S. success


The Bryan brothers started playing Davis Cup in 2003, but they've yet to suffer from the seven-year grind.

Although some players might be choosing not to make the commitment to Davis Cup this year (Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick say they're taking a pass), Bob and Mike Bryan are committed. They plan to play in the competition until they retire or their services are no longer required.

"We're always going to be available to play," Bob Bryan told ESPN.com last week at the Delray Beach International Championships, where the duo won their 58th career title, placing them in second place on the Open era doubles titles list.

"For doubles, Davis Cup is probably the biggest event in tennis," Bob continued. "We have an entire day dedicated to the doubles match, and that makes it such a pivotal point in Davis Cup. In fact, the doubles match is probably the most important Davis Cup point."

The Bryans' dedication to Davis Cup is likely an outgrowth of the fact they pretty much were left to beg U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe for an opportunity to play on the team.

McEnroe didn't mince any words with the twins when they campaigned for inclusion. He told them they'd have to prove themselves worthy before he would consider changing his strategy of naming four singles players and teaming two of them into a makeshift doubles duo.

McEnroe's message was loud and clear: The Bryans were going to have to win a Grand Slam title to become Davis Cuppers.

Task accomplished when the brothers won the 2003 French Open trophy -- the first of eight Grand Slam career titles to date -- and they've been Davis Cup insiders ever since, most notably as part of the team that won a record 32nd Davis Cup title for the U.S. in 2007. Bob stands at 20-4 in Davis Cup (4-2 in singles, 16-2 in doubles, while Mike is 17-3 overall (0-1 in singles, 17-2 in doubles).

And now, with Roddick and James Blake taking a Davis Cup break, at least for this year, the Bryans travel to the 2010 Davis Cup first round against Serbia in Belgrade in a new role as the titular leaders of the American team.

"We kind of saw it coming," said Bob Bryan, of Roddick's decision to back away from the team this season. Mike Bryan added, "He's been playing Davis Cup for 10 years and to throw in possibly four extra weeks of zigzagging around the world can be taxing, and he's trying to win that next Slam. He wants that really bad and he needs these weeks off to really do that. It was his No. 1 goal in his career to win Davis Cup, but he now has that checked off."

In place of the familiar lineup of Roddick, Blake and the Bryans, the singles assignments will belong to young Americans Sam Querrey, sporting an undistinguished 0-2 Davis Cup record in his lone outing, and John Isner, making his team debut.

How Querrey and Isner might fare against the Serbians is anyone's guess -- Serbian star Novak Djokovic beat Querrey both times they've played and has never faced Isner. The good news is that both Americans are seeing success this season: Querrey won the Memphis title and reached the San Jose semifinals; Isner won the Auckland title, reached the Memphis final and posted his second consecutive Grand Slam fourth-round showing, at the Australian Open.

"I think the young guys are going to be so excited to play that they're going to play well," Mike said. "I think it's going to be fine, but it's definitely going to be a little different being the older, more experienced guys on the team."

Davis Cup, however, is not the only priority on the Bryans' current agenda.

While they have just surpassed Peter Fleming and John McEnroe as well as Bob Hewitt and Frew McMillan to move into second place with 58 titles on the Open era doubles list, the next goal is to take out the current leaders, the retired Australian duo of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. The Woodies, who won 61 titles together, will be rewarded for their distinguished doubles career by being enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July.

Four more titles? No sweat, according to the Bryans.

They even believe the record is in their reach to break this year. And they're likely to be right as they have already won two titles this season, successfully defending their Australian Open and Delray Beach crowns, and have won at least five titles every year starting in 2002.

"We're going to try not to worry about it," Mike said. "We have goals of being No. 1 and to be No. 1 you have to win titles."