Spending every single moment of every day with another individual, whether it be eating, sleeping, training, or competing, naturally leads to the development of a strong partnership, especially if you share the same genetic makeup.
Bob and Mike Bryan’s success on the tennis court can be attributed to their strong bond as twins, which only became stronger as they journeyed together for over two decades.
In August 2020, the duo known as the Bryan brothers in the tennis world and beyond, declared their retirement from the sport. They hold the record for the most victories as a doubles team in history with 16 grand slam titles, 119 tour-level titles, and an impressive 438 weeks at the top spot of world rankings.
Their collaboration reached its highest point in 2012 and 2013, during which they were virtually unbeatable and achieved victory in both the Olympic games and all four major tournaments within a span of 12 months.
Mike tells CNN Sport that when they were in a state of positive momentum, everything seemed to fall into place seamlessly. They were all in sync, with their feet moving simultaneously and an innate understanding of where to position themselves. It felt like a powerful force once they found their groove.
This year’s French Open marks 20 since the identical twins from California captured their first grand slam title, though they had little sense at the time of the huge success that would follow.
Instead, their main goal was to secure a place on the USA’s Davis Cup team by impressing captain Patrick McEnroe at Roland Garros, which they successfully achieved.
The brothers had a swift and merciless journey through the French Open doubles bracket, easily defeating their opponents in straight sets. However, they almost had their path to victory derailed by a bout of nerves on the night before the final.
Reflecting on his experience at the 2003 French Open, Mike recalls, “At the time, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we were unsure if we would ever have the chance again. We couldn’t stop thinking about it, it consumed our thoughts.”
With an adrenaline-fueled determination, they secured the last 16 points of their final against Paul Haarhuis and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, ultimately achieving a 7-6 6-3 triumph and setting the stage for their future accomplishments.
Bob recalls, “We celebrated well into the night. We went directly from the club to a 9 a.m. photo shoot at the Arc de Triomphe with the trophies, but unfortunately, the photos were unusable. That’s probably why you haven’t seen them – we were exhausted.”
Although some tennis players may alternate between playing singles and doubles, the Bryan brothers have dedicated their entire careers to playing doubles and have remained unwavering in their loyalty to one another.
Bob, the older twin by a few minutes, had hip surgery in 2018. This led Mike to find a new partner, Jack Sock, and together they won both Wimbledon and the US Open.
“We spent every day playing and living together, always in each other’s company,” Mike recalls. “Our teamwork on the court was seamless – we were always in sync, moving as one cohesive unit.”
“We were aware that our relationship was unbreakable. This gave us a sense of security, knowing that we would never abandon each other and seek out a different partner.”
Bob concedes that the brothers never considered singles as an option.
“We derived greater pleasure from winning a doubles match, perhaps due to our twin connection,” he shares with CNN Sport. “Our sponsors even included bonuses in our contracts specifically for doubles – they encouraged us to pursue it. It was a more instinctive format for us.”
Bob, a left-handed player, and Mike, a right-handed player, were well-suited partners on the tennis court. However, unlike other left-right pairs, they preferred to play on the backhand side when returning serves. They made this change before the 2003 French Open.
Throughout their professional careers, they were almost always together and even shared a bank account. There were moments when they would become angry with each other, particularly during practice when they pushed each other to meet high expectations.
“We practiced every time like we were playing a final,” says Mike. “Bob would get on me if I missed a couple balls and I’d get on him, and we had some rough practices. We had some physical altercations out there, but it did keep the quality extremely high.
“We typically only had one practice per day because we would push ourselves so hard. Our practices would last a maximum of 90 minutes, and we wouldn’t even take breaks to drink water. We usually only used two or three balls and focused on drilling after drilling.”
“At the conclusion, we were thoroughly soaked in perspiration. We rehearsed as if it were a major championship and he made sure I didn’t slack off.”
While they were highly competitive, the brothers always remembered their roles as entertainers. The move known as the chest bump, or the Bryan bump as dubbed by The Stanford Daily during their time in college, became their signature celebration after winning a tournament or scoring a crucial point.
Drawing inspiration from the enthusiasm of the audience, the act of running, jumping, and physically colliding with each other became a display of performance – a trait they acquired from another American doubles duo, Luke and Murphy Jensen.
The Jensen brothers happened to win their sole grand slam championship at the 1993 French Open, a decade prior to the Bryans’ first victory.
Bob explains that the Bryans’ chest bump originated at Stanford and was later incorporated into their tour.
Initially, the tour did not warmly embrace it during its first few years. The experienced veterans viewed it as a form of disrespect towards them.
We were genuinely thrilled and grateful to be able to travel the world as professionals. Eventually, our excitement was recognized and it became our signature.
After retiring before the 2020 US Open, the siblings are now living at a more relaxed pace. Instead of constantly traveling for 40 weeks a year on tour, they have the opportunity to spend more time with their loved ones and focus on their mutual interest in music.
Bob plays keyboard, Mike guitar and drums; together, they have performed at bars, clubs and even tennis tournaments as part of the Bryan Brothers Band.
Bob says, “Our music rooms have grown and my children are now playing in them, so I have the opportunity to jam with them.”
This does not mean that tennis is no longer a part of their lives. They continue to participate in legends events at major tournaments and occasionally compete in exhibition matches. Additionally, Bob has been chosen as the captain for the USA’s Davis Cup team for the upcoming event this year.
However, the days of fierce rivalry, rigorous training, and celebratory chest bumps are now in the past.
Bob explains that once you retire, it can be challenging to resume your previous activities.
“We were determined to continue playing as long as we were mentally and physically able, and when we eventually retired, we had no feelings of regret.”
Neither of us have any unfulfilled dreams from the tour. We believe we gave our all to our careers.