As the U.S. Open gets under way August 29 in New York, fans of men's doubles will be looking for two brothers from California to win their second major tournament title. Identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan go into the last major tournament of the year ranked second in the world and giving their fans double the excitement.
Bob and Mike Bryan were born only two minutes apart. Their parents Wayne and Kathy were both tennis instructors who started the boys playing at age two. Bob and Mike played their first competitive tournament at age six, but their parents never allowed them to play one another in singles.
From an early age the Bryans appeared destined to dominate doubles tennis. Bob and Mike won more than 100 junior doubles titles, including the U.S. Open and the U.S. National Boys' 18s.
Both brothers attended Stanford University, where they helped lead the California school to national, NCAA, collegiate tennis team titles in 1997 and 1998.
Their first tournament title on the professional circuit came in 2001, when they captured the Saint Jude Tennis Classic in Memphis, Tennessee. That year the Bryans became the first twin brothers team to win four ATP Tour doubles titles in a single year.
Two years later, the brothers claimed their first major tournament crown, at the French Open in Paris where they won without losing a single set. The 2003 season was also the year the Bryans made their Davis Cup debut, helping the U.S. team win 3-2 over Slovakia.
Bob and Mike finished the year with another first - becoming the first brothers doubles team to finish the year ranked number one in the ATP Doubles race.
In 2004, the brothers elevated their success, winning seven titles in 11 finals and successfully defending their Masters Cup doubles crown. They also helped the U.S. Davis Cup team reach the finals for the first time since 1997, but the Americans lost to Spain. The Bryans also reached the quarterfinals at last year's Athens Olympics.
This year, the Bryans have captured titles at Queens Club in England on grass, and on hard courts in Scottsdale, Arizona and here in Washington. They lost in the first round of Davis Cup play to Croatia, but it did not derail their year.
Bob Bryan says that keeping a positive attitude is one of the keys to their success because the brothers can help - or hurt - each other on the court.
"When it is going bad, sure it's probably the worst," he says. "Because we can say anything to each other and we really can rip on each other pretty bad. But right now we are trying to stay positive and that is why we have had a good four years here."
Mike Bryan says playing with his brother sometimes gets a little old. However, winning is a great antidote to any sibling rivalry.
"You know we got to keep things, we've got to spark it and keep it fresh some times," he says. "It gets a little stale sometimes when you are with your brother 48 weeks out of the year on the road. But you know what, it is fun going out there and traveling with your twin and sharing these victories."
In addition to a positive attitude, their size and reach have also contributed to the Bryans' success. Bob Bryan is one meter, 93 centimeters tall while Mike is one meter, 90. Bob is left-handed while Mike is right-handed, and Mike says that gives the twins a great advantage.
"You know that's the only way that people can tell us apart on the court. I wish we were both right handed and then I would have Bob serve, because he has the bigger serve," he says. " I would have him serve every time. But it does help they [opponents] never get the same read on our serves. He is the big lefty server, he pulls them out wide on the backhand. And I complement with the good returns."
Their tennis success has garnered the Bryans quite a following, including a fan club started by two sisters - not twins - Amber Vanderzalm and Tiffany Reuschel. Amber and Tiffany formed a fan club called "The Bryan Bunch" and also developed a website for the twins: BobandMike.com.
Amber and Tiffany first saw the Bryans play at the Boys Nationals in the girls' home state of Michigan. Amber Vanderzalm says her sister was the first one to predict the Bob and Mike's success.
"Actually my sister went and she saw them playing, I think when they were about 15 in 1993," she recalls. "And she looked at my dad and said to him, 'those guys are going to be number-one one day, Dad.' And since then we have been watching them and that's what happened."
Amber and Tiffany, both preschool teachers, have traveled thousands of miles to watch the Bryans, along with their mother Barbara, and several other fans. They are recognizable at tournaments because of the unique lime-green shirts they wear with "The Bryan Bunch" on them. Tiffany Reuschel says their hope is that more people will recognize the Bryans' talent and will join the Bryan Bunch.
"We hope that it grows. And the guys recognize it and make an extra effort to say 'Hi' to the people that they see in the green shirts," she says. "So they are helping get the information out there so people know and want to join."
Unfortunately, Tiffany says she and Amber can not travel to New York for the U.S. Open. School will be under way in Michigan and the two sisters have to work while the Bryans are competing.
But the sisters are supporting the Bryans in another contest. The Association of Tennis Professionals Tour has implemented doubles rules changes, including reducing sets to five games each and playing tiebreakers at four games apiece instead of six.
The goal is to make matches faster and more exciting, but both Bob and Mike say that the rules changes will hurt the game. Bob called the ruling absolutely ridiculous while Mike said that the tournament organizers are penalizing the players for a lack of income.
The ATP Tour said its decision would help attract more singles players to doubles, and would help put doubles into the limelight. The new rules take effect in September, after the U.S. Open, and will not effect the major tournaments. The Bryans have vowed to fight the new rules, because they believe doubles tennis is exciting enough without making it what Bob Bryan called "an exhibition sport."