UNCASVILLE, Conn. — For the first time in years, the vital Davis Cup doubles match is practically an automatic point for the United States. Until the twins from Camarillo, Bob and Mike Bryan, took over, American doubles teams performed like Abbott and Costello -- with a who's on worst routine.
Before the Bryans, since the last U.S. Davis Cup victory in 1995, the record was 7-13 in doubles, a vital element in every best-of-five-match series. A first-round loser in his first and third years as captain (2001 against Switzerland, 2003 against Croatia), largely because of doubles flops, Patrick McEnroe decided to go with guys who've been winners since the age of 6.
In the Bryans' Davis Cup debut at Slovakia five months ago, they won the go-ahead point over Dominic Hrbaty and Karol Beck, important in keeping the U.S. in the World Group. And Saturday in front of 5,321 at the Mohegan Sun Casino, no longer on trial, they were the clinchers in beating Austria, sending the U.S. into the April quarterfinals against Sweden, which eliminated Australia.
Jurgen Melzer, beaten by Robbie Ginepri in the opening singles Friday, analyzed it simply after he and teammate Julian Knowle lost, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4: "There was no chance for us. The way the brothers played, that's the way the No. 1 team in the world plays. Too good."
Coupled with singles wins by Ginepri and Andy Roddick, the U.S. lead was an insurmountable 3-0. Nevertheless, the archaic custom of playing the last two singles today will be observed.
Returning serve handsomely, volleying sharply, smashing powerfully, covering the court like a tarp, the brothers permitted their adversaries to look at merely two break points, and those came minutes from the end.
Right-hander Mike and left-hander Bob are connected in mind and (almost) body. Where one brother isn't, the other one is. They vacate and fill beautifully. With Bob stationed in the right court, they plug the middle with two forehands. At 6 feet 5 they have the reach to protect the alleys and discourage lobbing. Their serves are whiz-bang, but after 77 minutes Mike was broken to 4-4 in the third.
"I missed a forehand volley. I do that about once a year," Mike said, laughing.
So startled to be at 4-4 were the Austrians that Knowle double-faulted twice and lost his serve at love. Whereupon Bob served it out, closing with one of his seven service winners, complementing five aces. Earlier he zoomed one at 139 mph. "I was blowing my own mind -- 139, whoa, that's my fastest," he said. "Yeah, I keep an eye on that speed gun."
"We've been together 24/7 all our lives. We can basically read each other's mind," Mike said. "Key to doubles is communication, and after thousands of matches together we communicate better than most teams. We are never going to give up on each other. He's not going to dump me, and I'm not going to dump him.
"Sometimes we go back to the room and box it out, too. That spices it up a little bit."
Bob added: "This feels great to have a day dedicated to you and doubles. Doubles doesn't get the spotlight. We're on TV maybe five times a year, and ESPN is a huge stage. We wanted to get out there and show some excitement."