Brothers worked hard to earn shot


UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- When Patrick McEnroe first took over leadership of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 2001, he chose singles players to fill the doubles spot.

It was a position the Bryan brothers, doubles specialists, wanted to fill more than anything. They saw McEnroe sitting there -- watching their matches and assessing their progress.

"It was a huge motivation for us, every match we played, Davis Cup was in the back of our mind," Bob said after the twins clinched a first-round victory for the U.S. Davis Cup team against Austria on Saturday. "When Pat came up, you know, at first it was a bit of pressure, but you know, as we kept seeing him there, it became great. We like the support.

"Maybe the first year we are like OK, we have got to do it now. We have got to win every match, but, you know, we settled into it and ..."

"They saw me all the time -- that they got used to it," McEnroe interjected.

It wasn't until 2003 that they got their shot as the United States fought to get back into the World Group against Slovakia. The brothers won the doubles match in straight sets and the Americans won the tie 3-2.

"They have gotten better and better every year that I have seen them and especially in the last year," McEnroe said.

In the last 45 Davis Cup ties, the United States holds a 25-2 record when it wins the doubles point. During that same time period, the U.S. is 11-10 when it loses the doubles match. Under McEnroe's leadership, the United States is 3-1 when winning the doubles point and 1-2 when losing the doubles point.

"There's no doubt in my mind now that these guys give us the best chance of winning doubles, of winning the point," McEnroe said. "To me, that outweighs having singles guys step in, for instance, like we have done before and played doubles. These guys are so good now, that I think it gives us that luxury."

The United States next plays either Davis Cup defending champion Australia or Sweden. Sweden currently leads their tie 2-1. If Sweden wins, the Americans will host the quarterfinals, but if Australia wins, the U.S. team will travel Down Under on April 9-11.

"They are both tough teams," Bob said. "I think we wanted Sweden to win just because we don't want to go Down Under again. We just got back from Australia five days ago."

The Aussies also have one of the toughest doubles players on Tour in Mark Woodbridge, who has won a Grand Slam doubles title on every surface. The Bryan brothers are the No. 1 doubles team in the world, but they respect what Woodbridge has accomplished.

"I think Woodbridge is the greatest doubles player of all time," said Bob, the younger brother by two minutes and also a lefty.

However, the twins have an amazing chemistry, and that is probably the question they are asked the most about.

"That's the oldest question in the book," Mike said. "I mean, we have, you know, we are with each other 24/7. Most of the time we stay in the same room together at tournaments, so I mean we are always talking about doubles.

"You know, I can basically read his mind out there since we have been playing together since we were 6 years old, and we've played thousands of matches, so we know better than most teams out there what doubles is -- communication is key and we communicate better than most teams."

McEnroe says the Bryans bring more to the table than just a point.

"I think it also is really relaxing to the other guys, you know, the other guys feel like they can really focus on what they need to do and they know that come Saturday, these guys are going to be ready to go."

They also contribute to the light-hearted atmosphere of the group.

Because of their match on Saturday, the brothers planned to rest and only watch one of the singles matches on Friday, either Andy Roddick's or Robby Ginepri's.

"Are you going to watch mine or Robby's?" Roddick asked the twins during their press conference Thursday.

"Robby's," Bob said without hesitation.

"Nice," Ginepri muttered under his breath.

And when teased by newly-sheared Roddick that they would lose if Bob didn't shave his head, too, Bob joined in.

The brothers also expressed appreciation at having the chance to shine by playing for Davis Cup.

"I don't think there's anything like Davis Cup ... coming here, playing for your country, you know, the anticipation of it is rough, waiting the first two days before the match," Mike said. "I got -- lost a lot of sleep, couldn't really eat. Once you get out there, I mean, we just feed on it. We love the crowd."

A crowd is something doubles players don't always play to.

"Doubles doesn't get that spotlight," Bob said. "We are on TV five times a year, and you know, it's great to have a day dedicated to you and to doubles."

Through it all, though, they always have each other.

"He's never going to give up on me, and I am never going to give up on him," Mike said. "We are going to go through this together. We are going to build week to week. If I play bad, I am not scared that he's going to dump me. I am not going to dump him.

"And sometimes, [when we] go back to the room, we are going to box it out, too. That spices it up a little bit."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.