Commentary

Davis Cup competition brings out very best in Bryan brothers

From the outset, the Bryan brothers have simply dominated Davis Cup competition. Whether on the road, home, clay or hard courts, the siblings have compiled win after win. And with one more against France, the Bryans will reach a new standard in the 108-year history of the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Originally Published: April 10, 2008
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Mike and Bob BryanAP Photo/Michael ProbstThe Bryans are riding high heading into their matchup versus France, having just captured their first title of the season in Key Biscayne.
Bob and Mike Bryan are as intense as it gets about Davis Cup, and one of the hallmarks of that intensity is their near-photographic recall of certain point sequences and head-to-head records. Yet they're trying not to fixate too much when it comes to the statistical milestone looming in front of them.

Should the twins win their match against the French duo of Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra this Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., they'll have achieved a terrific double themselves. The world's top-ranked duo would push its career Davis Cup record to 15-1, which represents both the most victories and the best winning percentage in U.S. team history -- a ledger that goes back 108 years.

"If we stop, we have the best record,'' Mike Bryan said. "We're going to keep playing and we're going to put that record out there every time we step out there. If we get two losses …"

"Well, we're probably going to get two losses,'' Bob Bryan said, finishing the thought. "If we're going to be playing for the next whatever, as long as Pat [McEnroe]'s around, he's probably going to choose us to play doubles.

Top Davis Cup doubles teams

Player Player Country Record Run
Nicola Pietrangeli Orlando Sirola Italy 34-8 1955-63
Ilie Nastase Ion Tiriac Romania 27-7 1962-77
Tomas Koch Jose-Edison Mandarino Brazil 23-9 1962-75
Paolo Bertolucci Adriano Panatta Italy 22-8 1973-83
Mahesh Bhupathi Leander Paes India 20-2 1995-present
U.S. Players
John McEnroe Peter Fleming U.S. 14-1 1979-84
Bob Bryan Mike Bryan U.S. 14-1 2003-present
"Can we stay unblemished? We're 14-and-1 right now, and it would be great to say let's just put that in a time capsule, and leave it, but we're going to put this on the line for the next five years. We really can't think about 15-and-1, because we're not going to stop. It could be 15-and-2, it could be 20-and-3.

"Maybe we can be the best team of all time for a few weeks.''

The brothers, who will turn 30 later this month, made their debut for the U.S. in late 2003 when captain Patrick McEnroe overcame his reluctance to select them and thereby leave himself without a true singles replacement.

They've more than vindicated his decision since then, giving the team its first solid pairing since Ken Flach and Robert Seguso's run in the late 1980s and early '90s, and have made the doubles point in the best-of-five competitions almost automatic.

The Bryans have won at home and away, indoors and outdoors, on clay, grass and hard courts, and they're good at closing things out: They're 5-0 in clinching situations. The Bryans' lone loss came at home in 2006 against the Croatian duo of Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic.

A successful title defense in Miami gave the Bryans a boost going into this weekend. It was their first championship of 2008 after reaching the finals of four of their six previous tournaments. That wouldn't have been termed a slump for most teams, but the Bryans spoiled their fans last year with 11 titles, including five Masters Series events and the Australian Open.

The Sony Ericsson win "was huge for us,'' Bob Bryan told reporters in Winston-Salem last Sunday. "I thought we played our best tennis in a long time.

"We beat three top teams pretty handily, so, you know, right now [we] told Pat we're peaking at the right time, and we feel really good, really healthy and playing well.''

Flach and Seguso, who starred for the U.S. more than a decade before the Bryans' arrival, have a special appreciation for what the brothers have accomplished.

John McEnroe and Peter Fleming
AP Photo/Goran StrandbergThe Bryans are tied with John McEnroe, right, and Peter Fleming for most career doubles wins in Davis Cup competition.
Olympic gold medalists, two-time Wimbledon winners and 1985 U.S. Open champions, Flach and Seguso went undefeated in Davis Cup play from March 1985 to April 1989, winning 10 straight before losing their last two matches, both on the road, to France and Germany.

The American pair met the Bryans when the latter were wide-eyed youngsters. "I knew when they were coming up that they'd be a great doubles team, but I never thought they'd be this good,'' Seguso said. "They play physical. So many teams don't play physical now, and they're all over you, at the net, in your face.''

Seguso called the Bryans' record so far "a great feat,'' especially since it includes seven road wins against no losses. The brothers have won in Slovakia, Spain, Belgium, Russia, the Czech Republic and Austria on clay and in Sweden on hard court.

"It's a whole different atmosphere playing against 12,000 people rooting against you,'' said Seguso, who recalled facing exceptionally hostile crowds in Mexico and South America. "People threw things at us. We had to have extra security. Your nerves get involved. It's not an easy situation to handle.''

Flach agreed.

"You could throw the rankings away,'' he said. "I saw some amazing performances by lower-ranked players who seemed to be able to rise to the occasion and play at superhuman levels when it was for their country. I always enjoyed the competition and pressure and the spotlight and the fact that the doubles were highlighted on Saturday, and I think the Bryans feel the same way.

"I couldn't think of a better pair of players to represent our country. They're ambassadors. I'm proud of them and happy for them, and I hope they [break the record]. Gosh, they could play for another 10 years if they wanted to.''

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford

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Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.