Twins and sisters could win tennis medals


Sitting in his Toronto hotel room with the rain coming down outside, coach Phillip Farmer mused about the phenomenon that is the Bryan brothers.

"Bob and Mike have always set goals," said Farmer, who has worked with them for the last 15 months. "And they have consistently knocked down those goals, whether it's a junior national title, a national collegiate title, winning a professional Grand Slam and being the No. 1 team in the world. They have two huge goals left, and they're within reach: A Davis Cup championship and an Olympic gold medal.

"It's pretty amazing. They're been playing tennis together since they were three-year-olds. Twins, playing for a gold medal, amazing."

Jonas Bjorkman and Todd Woodbridge are the only doubles team rated ahead of Bryan and Bryan on the ATP, but they are from Sweden and Australia, respectively. Thus, the greatest threat to the Bryans in the Athens doubles competition is likely to be Bjorkman, who will play doubles with fellow Swede Thomas Johansson, whom the Bryans defeated in straight sets in April in Davis Cup play. Fabrice Santoro and Michael Llodra of France are the other dangerous team.

The Bryans' signature is energy, pure unfettered enthusiasm. On the court, this is mostly a good thing. Off the court ... they have been known to exchange punches and, fairly frequently, uncomplimentary euphemisms.

"Who says we don't kill each other all the time?" Mike asked at the French Open in June, where the brothers were defending their first Grand Slam title. "There are times when it crosses your mind. But if we lost it in the quarterfinals of the French Open, we'd never forgive ourselves."

As it turned out, the No. 1 seeds held it together in those quarterfinals, defeating regular antagonists Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett in three tense sets before losing in the semifinals.

Together, the Bryans have won 19 doubles titles, including five this year -- Acapulco, Adelaide, London, Los Angeles and Memphis. They lost in the Australian Open final, but an Olympic gold medal would mean the world to them. They are universally favored to win it.

"It's what they really want," Farmer said. "And if they get it, there's only one big goal left: Davis Cup."

There is an undeniable hunger.

"That's the biggest difference," said U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe at the French Open. "Before, they were content to beat you 6-4, 6-4. Now, if they can, they'll steamroll you 6-2, 6-1.

"They will absolutely stomp you if they can."

Although Serena and Venus are the defending doubles champions and Venus is the defending singles champ, their chances of repeating are questionable, to say the least.

The sisters withdrew from a tournament in San Diego two weeks ago; Venus has a chronic wrist injury and Serena has been nursing a left knee that forced her to miss much of last season. Last year's inactivity has caught up with both of their WTA Tour rankings; Serena is No. 10 and Venus is No. 12. Those numbers, if they stand, represent the worst rankings for the sisters since 1998. Between them they have won only three titles -- this year and none in nearly four months.

Neither player has confirmed her reservation in Athens. With the U.S. Open looming at the end of the month, it will be a difficult decision for both of them. Serena made headlines in March on her way to the Nasdaq-100 championship when she responded to a question about Olympic security.

"If it became a real concern to where I personally wouldn't feel comfortable, then I wouldn't go to Athens because I like my life, I like waking up in the morning."

In late June, Serena was asked what the Olympics meant to her.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," she replied. "I was reading this article about this girl who said she was 17, this is her last chance. I was thinking to myself, 'Wow.' For them, it's just really a once-in-a-lifetime thing. For me to have that opportunity, not only once, but twice, three times, it's really amazing."

Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.