Bryans hope for Davis Cup title

Updated: September 22, 2004, 7:52 PM ET
Scripps Howard News Service

The season once held so much promise. There were gold medal dreams, Grand Slam possibilities and aspirations of continued dominance.

But after a disappointing summer stretch, Mike and Bob Bryan's opportunity for a season-defining moment has narrowed to one.

It's Davis Cup or bust for the Camarillo, Calif., tennis professional doubles team.

"We need to wipe the slate clean and end the summer on a high note because it hasn't been all that high," said Bob. "We said at the start, winning the Olympics, U.S. Open or Davis Cup would make a pretty good summer. Well, this is the last of the three goals."

The United States plays Belarus in the World Group semifinals Friday through Sunday at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, S.C.

The Bryans join Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish against the Belarus squad of Max Mirnyi, Vladimir Voltchkov, Andrei Karatchenia and Alexander Skrypo.

The Americans are trying to reach their first Davis Cup final since 1997. Their last title was in 1995.

The Bryans, who will play for the doubles point on Saturday, are 3-0 in Davis Cup and have yet to drop a set. They defeated Mirnyi and Voltchkov, 6-3, 6-3 in the second round of the Olympics last month.

But aside from that victory, the Olympics is a topic the Bryans would rather avoid discussing. The pain is still too raw.

After losing in the quarterfinals, the 26-year-old identical twins drove directly to the hotel, packed their bags and boarded the next flight out of Athens.

"It was probably the most disappointing moment of our careers. We didn't say a word to each other on the flight," Mike said. "We couldn't believe it happened. We wanted that gold so bad. We just wanted any medal so bad."

Compounding the Bryans' woes was a third-round exit at the U.S. Open, and the loss of their top ranking. After more than a year at the No. 1 spot, the Bryans have slipped to No. 2 behind Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor.

But there may be a partial explanation for the frustrating few months. Mike has been playing with labral tears in each hip. The painful injury causes him stiffness after prolonged periods of match play.

The Davis Cup format will be beneficial for Mike, allowing him to go all out for one match and not have to worry about a quick turnaround.

"I am definitely good for one match at 100 percent," said Mike. "Right now I am feeling really good."

Leading the United States to the final for the first time since 1997 would help ease some of the Bryans' summer pain.

"The whole summer has kind of been a shocker, but we have stayed fairly positive through it all," Mike said. "We want to get back on top. We are kind of under the radar now, and everyone isn't gunning for us anymore. We are going to gun for them."

The Bryans remain hopeful of regaining the top spot with a strong European indoor run and a title defense at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup.

"It is still conceivable to finish the year No. 1," Mike said. "Don't count us out."