Mike Bryan: In The Game For Life.

By Jane Voigt

July 31, 2018, Washington D.C. “Dad,” Mike Bryan said. “Ball please.” 

The moment was surreal.  

Here was the top doubles player in the world, Mike Bryan, at 40, after winning his 17th Grand Slam at Wimbledon, asking for yet one more tennis ball from his dad, Wayne Bryan, who’d introduced his twin sons — Mike and Bob — to tennis way back before they started kindergarten. Yet, today, there they were nestled under blooming crepe myrtle trees on one of the side courts at The Rock Creek Park Tennis Center: Home of Citi Open. Wayne, positioned at the net, with a basket full of fuzzy yellow tennis balls, with Mike on court, amongst an intimate  group of eight every-day tennis players in the clinic of their lifetime. 

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Mike Bryan, left, and his father, Wayne Bryan, leading a clinic at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center today.
Photo credit Jane Voigt. 

“One more like that and you get a free Lexus,” Wayne shouted at man who had snuck a sweet down-the-line forehand past Mike. Father and son smiled in unison, just as seamlessly as one of Mike's and Bob’s iconic chest bumps. 

Of course the only missing part of this moving puzzle was Bob. He has been off court due to a hip injury suffered at The Madrid Open this spring.

“He’s going to have surgery unfortunately,” Mike said in an exclusive interview with DownTheTee. “He’s having it this week up in New York [with a doctor] who’s one of the best in the world for the hip. It looks like it might be a six-month recovery. He’s hoping to come back a little after the Aussie Open next year.”

Mike is confident in the procedure.

“It looks like it will get back to one-hundred percent; so that’s good news,” he added. 

In the meantime Mike will continue to play doubles, mostly with Jack Sock, with whom he won Wimbledon.  

“I’m going to finish the year with Jack. We’re going to play Toronto, Cincinnati, the Open, and in the fall, hopefully, make The World Tour Finals,” Mike said. 

But there’s no doubt Mike missed Bob during the Wimbledon fortnight.

“I would’ve loved for him to have hoisted the trophy with me. We were having a great year up to that point,” Mike began. “I definitely thought we could’ve won a slam this year. [But], he was very supportive from home; and, I dedicated the victory to him. He was sharing in the whole process. I’m just looking forward to having him back."

Mike admitted that he really didn’t think he would be back at number one, at 40. But “the body’s feeling good, my mind’s great, and I’m still getting better.” At Citi Open Mike has partnered with Grand Slam champion Edouard Roger-Vasselin. They hooked up through text message, commonly enough. 

“I’ve been on tour with him for a long time. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s played us well in the past,” Mike said about Roger-Vasselin. “He’s won the French Open. His partner is hurt and we just text messaged. That’s it.”

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Mike Bryan showing off his serve today, during a private clinic in Washington D.C. Photo credit Jane Voigt.

Mike turned pro in 1998, about the time the game was moving toward powerful baseline tennis. Both the twins chose to bypass the singles’ route and concentrate on doubles, their game of choice and the choice of most tennis players in America. Luckily for those fans, watching doubles has become a bit easier, especially this year at Wimbledon when ESPN broadcast live the gentlemen's and ladies doubles championships. Commentators such as Brad Gilbert and Pam Shriver called the matches, teaching viewers the intricacies of the game.  

“That’s the thing. There’s a really big difference between pro doubles and club doubles,” Mike began. “It’s a lot more power and strategy, movement and I-formation. Generally a lot of things happening. You need very skilled commentators calling those matches. I’m glad they did such a good job.”

Yet what will have to happen to get more doubles on air, perhaps during the earliest of rounds at a Grand Slam and not only the final one?

“It comes down to people wanting to see it,” Mike said. “If everyone wrote in to ESPN and requested more doubles I’m sure it would be in the conversation. They do a good job showing the grand slam finals, but we’d like to see a little bit more.”

For the ardent doubles’ fans avenues have been paved. 

“You have Tennis Channel, you have Tennis TV, which you can watch every doubles match live throughout the world and the Masters Series. You can pick the courts you want to watch on Direct TV and others. So, if you want to see it, you can.”

However, traveling in a parallel tennis universe is another reality. 

“The major networks are always going to stay with the prime time singles stars on the big stadium courts,” Mike added. “That’s hard to change. The singles stars are big; they move the needle of the ratings. That’s a tough argument to replace some of that.”

In 2019 the majors will only seed 16 of 128 singles players, not 32 as the convention has been since 2001. That means top seeds could face someone ranked, let’s say, 17 in an opening round match. The adjustment in seeds would also pressure broadcasters to reverse their tendency to show early-round blow-out matches that feature one big star against a relative unknown.  

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Mike Bryan and Jane Voigt, after the interview. Photo credit Greg Sharko, director of media information for the ATP . 

“The margins are so fine in doubles that right from the very start [at slams] you have serious serious battles. There are more upsets,” Mike began. "And, yes, you miss some of that when you’re watching the big stars dominate in the early rounds, so they should seed only 16 players. That’ll make for some marquee matches in the early days. That going to be great for the fans.” 

With Wayne Bryan still on the road as a lecturer and all-round promoter of tennis, his sons’ retirements seem far fetched. Won’t they be an indelible fixture? 

“I want to stay in tennis, definitely. It’s given us so much and that’s what we love doing,” Mike said. “Whether it would be doing some TV stuff or some coaching or whatever … hanging out with my dad or being tournament director. I don’t know. We’ll have to kind of dabble and see what sticks. I’d love to do something with my brother, stay together as a family.”

Seems like the Bryans have no plans to fade away, lucky for us.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013