Thanks for the support guys! Hard to believe we're into our 100th tour final. Seems like yesterday we were in Orlando playing our 1st.
-- @Bryanbros via Twitter, Saturday, July 31
Yes, 11 years and four months ago -- an eternity in the amped-up, compressed world of professional tennis -- Bob and Mike Bryan lost to Jim Courier and Todd Woodbridge in their very first ATP World Tour doubles final. Two years later, they won their first ATP title, defeating Alex O'Brien and Jonathan Stark 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the final in Memphis, Tenn.
On Sunday, fittingly, the hyperactive 32-year-old twins from Camarillo, Calif., reached their 100th career final in the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles. Beneath the glaring sunlight of high noon at UCLA, they defeated the team of Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-7 (6), 6-2, 10-7.
It was their 62nd career doubles title, breaking the record they had shared with the Australian Hall of Fame team of Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. The Bryans, who seem to invite this kind of drama, lost the first set and the first game of the second set. And then they won six of the next seven games and the super tiebreaker, converting the first of two match points.
Less than 90 minutes after the match, they were on the phone with ESPN.com, playfully arguing who had a bigger hand in the ultimate victory.
"I was serving on match point," Bob said.
"And I put the [winning] volley away," Mike interjected. "I was the key."
"Oh, man …" Bob replied.
The Bryans tied the record back in May, beating current rivals Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the Madrid final. Although they desperately wanted to break the mark in a Grand Slam venue, they failed, losing in the second round of the French Open -- their earliest departure in a major in nearly nine years -- and then fell in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
This one seemed destined, as the Bryans won the title in their hometown tournament for the sixth time. At the end, just when it looked like they were going to execute their signature leaping chest bump, they audibled into an awkward jump-and-catch, with Mike (185 pounds) landing in the arms of Bob (200 pounds).
"He would have crushed me," Mike said, "if it was the other way around."
"You're feeling all that pressure, so it was a feeling of relief," Bob said. "A flood of emotion. All the work you put in. Lot of Sundays and bad sleep and not eating good. A flash of all the hard work you've put in since you were a little guy."
There were more than 25 family members and friends on hand, including the brothers' parents, Wayne and Kathy, both of whom are teachers of tennis, and their grandparents.
"Those were the people who always supported us," Mike said. "It felt like Thanksgiving."
Adding to the familiarity of the moment: The Bryans said they grew up on that blue UCLA court, playing 100 matches dating back to Junior Team Tennis at the age of 6. They also won the NCAA doubles title with Stanford on that court in 1998.
Woodforde, who lives a two-hour drive outside Los Angeles, was asked by the ATP to be on hand for the record-breaking match -- and he graciously complied.
"It's such a warm sense of flattery that they have tried to emulate us for so many years," Woodforde told ESPN.com. "Todd and I have achieved so many things. If we set up the next generation, then we've done the right thing. Let's hope there's a pair of little kids out there, aspiring tennis players, who want to be just like Mike and Bob.
"I was sitting with my daughters [Elyse, 9, and Maddy, 8]. Yeah, they're aware of Mike and Bob, having come from Newport [and the Woodies' Hall of Fame enshrinement]. They knew these guys were close to breaking the record. They said, 'It's OK, Dad. You're still our dad.' That to me means way much more than anything else. That puts it all in perspective."
Are the Bryans the best team in the history of doubles? For perspective, consider that Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver won 79 doubles titles, including 21 majors. How do the Bryans stack up with the Woodies, who won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles in their decade-long association, as well as Olympic gold (Atlanta in '96) and silver (Sydney in 2000) medals?
The Bryans have won eight major titles, including this year's Australian Open and a bronze medal in 2008 in Beijing. But the Bryans are still playing, of course, and believe they will continue to be a viable team for years. Indeed, the average age of elite doubles players hovers around 37, and they say they'd like to play for another five or six years. And though they may not win 11 titles per year, as they did in 2007, they have averaged six per season the past three years, which suggests by the time they decide to retire, the record, going forward, will be difficult for any team to approach.
"That's what [Woodforde] told us," Bob said. "He said, 'You guys deserve this. Just keep going and blow it out of the water.'"
"That's the beauty of the sport," Woodforde said. "You set the standard -- and we set it high. They've reached it, and now I feel so confident that the floodgates will open for them. They'll go on and win another 20-30 tournaments, however many they want. As long as they stay healthy, they'll win a bagful of titles.
"It's not necessarily the opponent at the other end, it's more about yourselves. As long as they can keep pushing themselves, pushing that bar higher, they'll keep winning."
Said Mike Bryan, "We've been prolific the last five years, around 40 titles, piling them on.
"This [record] was really in our sights -- we weren't focusing on anything other than this. Every question for the last year was about 'The Record.' There's more to do. The Woodies have 11 Grand Slams? It would be nice to think we're knocking on that door."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.