Bryans set up Roddick to close the deal ... again
Andy Roddick is as good as it gets (8-0) when it comes to closing out Davis Cup ties. But part of the reason for his success is the fact that the Bryan brothers almost never lose their crucial doubles matches, writes Bonnie D. Ford.
Updated: September 22, 2007, 7:28 PM ETBy Bonnie D. Ford | Special to ESPN.com
GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- If the intrepid Bryan brothers weren't tennis players, they'd be well-suited to emergency room work. They're a joined-at-the-hip M*A*S*H unit capable of operating under any conditions anywhere in the world.Bob and Mike Bryan not only stop the bleeding, they refuse to lose the patient. They've won on clay in five countries in an era when American players usually get left in the red dust, and Saturday they prevailed on indoor carpet, breaking the serves and spirits of seasoned Swedish pair Jonas Bjorkman and Simon Aspelin, 7-6 (11), 6-2, 6-3. The twins' win makes them 12-1 overall in team play, 6-0 on the road and 7-1 in situations when the U.S. has split its singles matches the first day. The team has won nine of its 12 ties during their tenure. But numbers don't tell the whole story of the exuberant, mirror-image 29-year-old duo from Camarillo, Calif., a lefty-righty combination who meet in the middle and seldom get their feet, their rackets or their signals tangled. Although they've won five Grand Slam titles and want more, they flat-out admit they consider Davis Cup matches more important, the competitive equivalent of life and death. It's only natural that two men born as a tandem would derive special energy from an event with a team format.
"Yeah, it's a fit," Mike Bryan said. "I've had this guy by my side my whole life. Haven't been apart for more than a couple days. We're a life team, and we're going to be together forever. "I think it's the best thing you can do in tennis, playing for your teammates and your country. And we have the most fun these weeks. I mean, these are the highlights of our career right here." The Bryans' win delivers a potential clinching opportunity into the capable hands of No. 5 Andy Roddick, another honorary surgeon who has shown skill at sewing up Davis Cup ties. He's undefeated in his eight opportunities to put the U.S. team in the next round. Roddick will face 56th-ranked Thomas Johansson, whom he has beaten in all five of their previous matches, most recently in straight sets a few weeks ago at the U.S. Open. If Roddick's clinching streak were to end, the entire weight of the tie would fall on No. 7 James Blake, whose road record in meaningful matches is 1-6 and who would give Swedish captain Mats Wilander an interesting personnel choice for the fifth match. Joachim Johansson's level of play Friday against Roddick -- especially in the first two sets, which went to tiebreaks -- certainly was high enough to earn him a shot against Blake despite the fact that it was Johansson's first match back after eight months off because of shoulder surgery. But Wilander also could opt for more experienced Bjorkman. Wilander said Saturday that he had not decided. The Bryans' hair-raising first-set tiebreak, which included the most total points any U.S. Davis Cup team has ever played, gave U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe heart palpitations on the bench. The former French Open doubles champion pronounced it one of the best sets of doubles he'd ever seen, which covers a lot of ground. "I couldn't think of any one of the four players that made a mistake both tactically and then making the shot," McEnroe said. "I mean, they all moved perfectly to the ball. They all covered the open court. They all covered for each other. If I wasn't so nervous, I would have been enjoying it a lot because it was just a great set of tennis. "I haven't seen doubles played that well, particularly in such a big moment and throughout the tiebreak." There were seven set points in the tiebreak. Sweden had three of them. The Bryans converted on their fourth opportunity when Aspelin whacked a volley into the net coming in behind his own serve. That ended the anxiety-filled first set after 59 minutes, but the brothers appeared energized rather than drained. Bjorkman observed that each Bryan rose to the occasion by beefing up his relative weakness -- Bob, the big server, returned well, and Mike, whose return game is generally better, served hard and precisely. "I think the reason we've become more consistent in the last few years is that we're closing those margins a little bit," Bob Bryan said of the world's No. 1 team. The Bryans have won eight titles this season, including at the Australian Open.
AP Photo/Michael ProbstMike, left, and Bob Bryan have never lost on the road in Davis Cup play.
Chance to Clinch Tie