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Double Jeopardy

Bryan twins, others worry ATP is squeezing them out

June 24, 2003|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

When Camarillo residents Bob and Mike Bryan won the doubles championship at the French Open two weeks ago, the victory was significant to the 25-year-old identical twins not only because it was their first Grand Slam championship, but also because it made them the most successful team of brothers in the open tennis era.

The result may have been important to their sport for different reasons.

"We've got to somehow make the Bryans superstars," said Murphy Jensen, one half of another tennis-playing brother team that might have some ideas on how to do that.

Luke and Murphy Jensen won the French Open in 1993, and used their flamboyant stage presence and marketing savvy to become promotional phenomena for the game during their heyday.

"We've always wanted to help doubles, and I thought we needed something like this," Bob Bryan said after he and Mike had won their 11th title, one more than Tom and Tim Gullikson. "Hopefully, we can use this like a springboard."

The brothers added a 12th title Saturday, winning a Wimbledon warmup at Nottingham.

Tennis could use a doubles drawing card.

Last October, the ATP Tour changed the allocation of prize money, increasing the percentage designated for singles, and reducing the percentage allotted for doubles.

The nine-tournament Tennis Masters Series allocates 83% to singles, 17% to doubles -- a 5% increase and decrease, respectively, from 2002. ATP events in the International Gold and International series designate 80% to singles, 20% to doubles. There was a 75-25 split last year.

And since 2001, doubles draws now encourage and give increased opportunity and priority to singles players.

Doubles draws used to be based on teams' doubles rankings only. Now, singles players may enter doubles competition based on their singles rankings. Thus, a higher-ranked singles player or team of singles players may be given priority because there are six spots in 16-team doubles draws designated for teams with at least one player using his singles ranking. The system may displace mid-level teams of doubles specialists who would otherwise have filled those spots.

Some players, the Bryans among them, said the moves were significant contributing factors in their decisions to sign letters of support for the International Men's Tennis Assn., a players-only trade association formed in March that has butted heads with the ATP.

"We just thought, 'Why's it have to come off of doubles?' And then they gave a little bit to singles too," Bob Bryan said. "You're cutting people's jobs, and then you cut the money."

The Bryans, who recently became the No. 1 team in the world, were one of four teams among the top six on a recently released list of IMTA supporters.

The others were the No. 2 team of Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, No. 3 Leander Paes and David Rikl, and No. 5 Martin Damm and Cyril Suk. Four other doubles teams also signed, as did several single members of top teams, including Wayne Arthurs, Tomas Cibulec and Don Johnson.

"The original idea was to take a stand for doubles," Nestor said. "I think we've been [cheated] a little bit at times. I think it's common knowledge, with singles and doubles players, that we're all upset with the promotion of the game, and where it's headed. How many guys in tennis do people know -- five?"

In a backhanded way, the doubles changes were an attempt by ATP officials to maintain and improve the economic viability of those draws.

"All you've got to do is look in the stands," said Tommy Buford, director of the Kroger-St. Jude tournament in Memphis in February. "That tells you right quick where the interest lies."

The idea was that increased singles prize money would attract more of the recognized names to tournaments, thus drawing more fans and increasing prize money. Making it easier for singles players to compete in doubles also was seen as a way to add name recognition.

"It came out looking like they were taking a meat cleaver to doubles, and I don't think it's that they were trying to do that," said Bob Kramer, tournament director of the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA. "But something needed to be done. The Edsel, for right now, is doubles. It needs names. People enjoy doubles, but they like personalities."

And that's where the Bryans come in.

"They enjoy what they're doing and they're willing to express it," Kramer said. "You see a team out there. They look alike, they dress alike, and they're acting like a team."

Even so, ATP officials hope recent doubles changes will slow a tendency toward specialization by prompting players to improve in and play more singles. "There's a lot of guys who, they're good doubles players, but the money is in singles," said Luke Jensen. "Doubles guys have to sell tickets or, just like any company, you get laid off.

"It's nothing against the doubles guys, it's just the business."

The Bryans are hoping business will improve.

"We're going to try to help that," Mike Bryan said. "We've been doing well, but we needed to be No. 1 in the world or win a grand slam to make us more legitimate.

"We love doubles, and we're going to love that pressure of trying to help doubles survive."



Sibling Revelry

The Bryan brothers won five doubles titles last year and captured their first Grand Slam title at this year's French Open, where they also became the top brother doubles team in the open era. A look:

*--* Team Titles Bob-Mike Bryan 12 Tim-Tom Gullikson 10 Anand-Vijay Amritraj 8 Gene-Sandy Mayer 5 Alvaro-Jaime Fillol 4 Luke-Murphy Jensen 4 Heinz-Markus Gunthardt 3 Emilio-Javier Sanchez 3 John-Patrick McEnroe 2


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