The Bryan brothers’ 2017 resume thus far only includes participation in two tournaments. Prior years have often included twice that many, as well as Davis Cup. But after a frustrating 2016 that saw them fail to win a Grand Slam title for the second year in a row, the brothers, now 38 years old, clearly took a look at scheduling, opting to play fewer tournaments – and even more notably, announcing they would cease to compete in Davis Cup.
At this year’s Australian Open, they reached the finals, beaten by the super-slick team of John Peers and Henri Kontinen. Three weeks later, at Delray Beach, Bob and Mike lost in the second round to Leander Paes and Yen-Hsun Lu.
To watch these two play is to witness an extraordinary level of synchronized movement. A longstanding joke that isn’t a joke, made by my Tennis Channel colleague Justin Gimelstob years ago, is that you could be playing with someone your whole life and you’d still have been paired nine months less than Mike and Bob.
While certainly genetics and proximity account for a significant degree of their success, what’s often overlooked is the incredible work ethic and attention to detail these two pay to their craft. For all their power, athleticism and ability to strike thundering winners, it’s the small, incremental details that have made these two soar. Mike’s return is more precisely timed than a Swiss watch, his alert eyes, quick feet and compact strokes exceptionally adept at repeatedly flinging back serves of all shapes and sizes. The same holds true for his volleys. Bob too creates a presence with his tremendous forehand and serve. They are constantly on the move, but also keen at the delicate transition shots that help build a point. Watch how carefully they strike half-volleys, drive groundstrokes through the middle and vary the speed and placement of their serves. All their lives, thanks largely to father Wayne (a longstanding teaching pro) and mother Kathy (a former pro), they have been devout students of the game.
This week, the brothers arrive at Indian Wells, competing in their native Southern California at the BNP Paribas Open. As comfortable as the two feel at this event, not until 2013 did they win their first of two titles at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Now, likely more refreshed than they have in some time, they hope to kick their ’17 campaign into high gear.