Watching the Bryan brothers clown around with fans, signing novelty tennis balls and posing for photos, it is hard to believe that they are just hours away from defending last year's U.S. Open victory in men's doubles.
The dynamic duo, Bob and Michael, is used to the attention these days. The top-ranked men's doubles team in the world, the Bryans have had a scintillating 2009, including five tournament titles, that has propelled them to stardom. Couple that with a music album -- yes, the brothers are trying to cross over into the entertainment world -- and the siblings who play the hard court with the best of them are set to go fully mainstream.
But will all this attention affect their game?
Not according to the brothers, who claim the hours they have spent in the studio the past few weeks to get the tracks cut haven't compromised their match readiness. The schedule and interviews are grueling, as are the commitments to the media, such as the exhibition hosted by Fox Business Network on Monday morning. Playing on a downsized court, the brothers served and volleyed with many of the network anchors and sundry Fox folks. Those are the demands of being media darlings.
But the Bryans say they're still most interested in their hits on the court, not those in the studio.
"Tennis comes first, we don't compromise that at all," Michael said. "We keep our normal routines, our normal schedules and training. But we have other passions and interests, too."
Like brother, like brother.
"It is always going to be about our game, and then everything else comes after that," Bob said. "We never want to forget what got us here."
The game in question is an intriguing blend of power and grace that has catapulted the lefty-righty duo to the top of the rankings. Excited to be in New York, a place where the Bryans believe they catapulted into the national consciousness, the brothers sense an energy when they play in the city that they don't find anywhere else. That includes the mini-courts like the one set up outside the Fox studios.
"For us, it's like showtime," Bob said. "We love the fans here and the way they've gotten behind [us]. They've carried us through some tournaments; we've had some really good runs here. It really is showtime."
Even if that means there are more distractions this time around. Despite their top ranking, the Bryans are fully aware they can be overtaken by the Canadian-Serbian one-two punch of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic.
"I think this is really important, the U.S. Open, the last major of the year," Michael said. "With the way that Nestor and Zimonjic have been playing, we really want to get this one. We've had our eye on it for a long time."
The interest around the brothers has sparked talk about doubles that the game hasn't seen in a long time, certainly not in America. Ever since the Bryans began making waves at Stanford and their chest-bumping routine earned them a following, the autographs, photos and special events have come with the territory.
"Doubles tennis doesn't get too much attention here in this country," Bob said. "We like doing these types of things, to spread the game and get the word out there."
It's a point not lost on those they served and volleyed with, including Fox Business Network reporter Chris Cotter.
"It's great to see these two out here, doing what they're doing for the game," Cotter said. A former sportscaster himself, Cotter says he began following the Bryans last year. "What they're doing for doubles tennis, which for whatever reason doesn't get as much attention, is great."
Even the inevitable comparisons to the Williams sisters are handled by the brothers as easily as a lob. Rather than being insulted by the cynics -- there's a perception in some circles that both sets of siblings are more motivated (and are perhaps distracted) by outside interests -- the Bryans claim a deep respect and admiration for the sisters, whom they call friends.
"I have no problem with it, no problem at all," Bob said. "The amount of success they have achieved, on and off the court -- it is in many ways a compliment when people compare us to them."
"We just like to think that we can beat them," Michael said.
Kristian R. Dyer is a freelance writer. He is the associate editor of Blitz magazine and also writes for the New York City daily paper Metro. He can be reached at KDyer@RutgersInsider.com.