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Bill Dwyre

Bryan brothers provide a double shot of buzz

September 03, 2007|Bill Dwyre

NEW YORK -- For Mike and Bob Bryan, the world's top-ranked men's doubles team, Sunday was one of those days that makes it worthwhile, that makes up for the hundreds of matches in front of 125 people on a back court at 9 p.m. in a city that looks and feels like all the rest.

Sunday at the U.S. Open, on a day when the singles matches were fairly predictable, doubles had a buzz. Doesn't happen often, even here.

After waiting for more than four hours to get on Louis Armstrong court while David Nalbandian and David Ferrer thrashed away at each other from the baseline for five sets -- it took so long the Bryans took two naps -- the No. 1-seeded Bryans showed up to play a third-round match against 13th-seeded Jeff Coetzee of South Africa and Rogier Wassen of the Netherlands.

And, lo and behold, there were nearly 10,000 people there to watch.

One theory was that many people expired of boredom watching Nalbandian and Ferrer, and the bodies had yet to be removed. Understandable, but not true.

One reason is that record crowds here are creating massive overflows from Ashe Stadium to Armstrong and the grandstand courts. Another is that hardcore tennis fans, the kind who come here, appreciate and understand doubles, and the Bryans give them much to appreciate.

They are identical twins, but a closer looks shows that left-handed Bob is an inch taller at 6 feet 4 and 10 pounds heavier at 202, even though he was born two minutes after Mike. They both serve huge, Bob a few mph faster, and they both embrace their life's work with an enthusiasm hard to miss. There are chest bumps after big points and all-out lunges for shots.

They gave the fans on Armstrong court about an hour of entertainment, sending Coetzee and Wassen away, 6-1, 6-4, and keeping the Bryans moving nicely forward in a season that, to date, has been their best.

Their match record is 63-8 and they have won eight tournaments, including one major, the Australian Open. With three months to go, that overshadows last year, when they were a solid No. 1 with a 66-14 mark and seven titles. If they win this U.S. Open title, it will be their sixth Grand Slam, and they are only 29.

They are the product of Wayne and Kathy Bryan of Camarillo. Sunday, neither was in the stadium when their twins won.

Which is a story in itself.

Wayne was in the players' lounge, being his outgoing self, talking to other players, flirting with Tracy Austin and doing everything he could to keep his mind off the thing that mattered most to him, his sons' next match.

Would he not go out and watch?

"I'd rather have a root canal," he said.

He said his wife would probably be riding her Arabian horse in the Santa Monica Mountains.

"She's worse than me, much more nervous," Wayne said.

Wayne and Kathy were very good tennis players -- he the No. 1 at UC Santa Barbara in his college days; she, the former Kathy Blake, a ranked player who once got to the mixed doubles quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

"The boys got their tennis genes from their mother," Wayne said.

Wayne Bryan is anything but a shrinking violet. He is a lawyer, has done the public address announcing at the Countrywide Classic at UCLA, does motivational speaking, has written a book and coached the Sacramento Capitals to the title in World TeamTennis this summer. He has traveled with his sons for the last three months and is heading home next week.

But when it comes down to match time, Mr. Extrovert becomes Mr. Exit and Hide.

"If I do go into the stadium, I like to sit up near the top," he said, and showed how. He put on wraparound sunglasses, clamped his jaw shut and nodded a lot.

Sometimes, he isn't even as close as the players' lounge.

"They played their second round and I went to lunch with Bob Kramer (director of the Countrywide tournament)," Wayne Bryan said. "We started talking and he told some great stories and pretty soon, I knew their match must be over. So I got on the computer and was shaking by the time I hit the button for the result. And then, there it was. They won. No better feeling in the world."

He said he had no idea what being a tennis father would be like. His sons finished two years at Stanford, Bob won the NCAA triple crown his sophomore year (singles, doubles and team title) and it was time to turn pro. Charlie Pasarell gave the twins a wild card into his Indian Wells event, they beat Pat Rafter and Jonas Bjorkman and the tennis world quickly knew. Still, Wayne Bryan said he had no idea.

"I remember, being with Dick Leach when he was watching his son, Rick, play a match," Bryan recalled. "This is when Leach and [Jim] Pugh were the best [doubles team] in the world, almost unbeatable, and they were playing Pete Sampras and Richey Reneberg and were up, 6-2, 4-0, and Rick missed a volley. Dick clenched his fist and said 'damn,' and I asked him if, after all this time and all their success, it was still like this for him.

"I'll never forget what he told me. He said, 'If you're gonna do this, get a seat belt and a diaper.' "

Or, in Wayne Bryan's case, wraparound sunglasses.

--

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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