NCAA Football

Q&A with the Bryan Brothers, tennis’ best duo

May 28, 2016

In the world of professional men’s tennis, there isn’t much that former Stanford standouts Bob and Mike Bryan haven’t achieved together. The identical twins have won every major doubles title in the sport — 16 Grand Slams, 36 Masters Tournaments, four World Tour finals, a Davis Cup and an Olympic gold medal. The duo began their careers at Stanford  in 1996, winning two NCAA team titles and a doubles title (Bob would also win a singles title, completing the rare “Triple Crown”) before leaving Stanford in 1998 to pursue professional careers. Eighteen years and 112 ATP titles later, the brothers are undoubtedly the best doubles team to ever grace a tennis court. At 38 years of age, they will likely compete in their last Olympic Games this summer. The Daily spoke with the Bryan Brothers about their twin rivalries, renowned musical talents and (somewhat) impending retirements as part of its Road to Rio Olympic coverage.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Tell me a little about what it was like coming to Stanford — a mecca of college tennis — as freshmen back in 1996.  

Bob Bryan (BB): Of course we were very excited. We had dreamed of coming to The Farm and playing for the famed Stanford tennis team since we were little kids.  

Mike Bryan (MB): Yes, there was a big tournament about 30 minutes from our home at Ojai and it always has featured the Pac-12 tennis teams. Since we were 5 or 6, we always attended that tournament and saw Stanford stars like Martin Blackman, Scott Davis, Jeff Tarango, Dan Goldie, Jared Palmer, Alex O’Brien and Jonathan Stark.  

BB: We went to the NCAA Championships that were held in Los Angeles in 1990 — we idolized the Cardinal team, and we rooted like crazy for them as they won the title over Tennessee.  We even wrote a little rap poem and gave it to them. When Coach Dick Gould was recruiting us in 1996, he took out the Stanford scrapbook from that year and pulled out that very little tune we came up with.  

MB: That amazed us. And it brought back a great memory.

TSD: Presumably you were in different dorms — what was it like being away from each other for the first time?  

MB: Yes, we were kind of shocked to not be able to live together as we had for the past 18 years. We tried to get in the same room, but the University was very firm on that.

BB: We both liked Mike’s roomie, James, and he remains a close friend to this day. And truth be told, within two weeks, I got an extra mattress on the floor and moved in with Mike and James in a very tiny dorm room. We all had a great time that year. Please don’t tell any of the Stanford officials that we broke that rule.  

MB: And another funny thing: After we turned pro in 1998, we were playing the U.S. Open in late August and we got a call in our hotel room in New York from the Collins twins — Jarron and Jason — who were then basketball stars at Stanford and would go on to play in the NBA. We enjoyed talking to them and telling them about Stanford and of course, they said, “Hey, what’s the deal about us not being able to room together?! We’re twins like you guys and we don’t like that.”

BB: We’re not sure how they worked it out, but we are still good friends with those guys. They’ve come to some of our matches through the years and we always have a good time. They always yell out from the stands, “Hey, we’re the all-time greatest twins that went to Stanford, not you two!”

TSD: What are your best memories from your days at Stanford?  

BB: We had a wonderful two years on The Farm and we have so, so many great memories — from the classroom, from the campus, from our fraternity (SAE), from going to watch all the other sports on campus and getting to know the other athletes — like Kerri Walsh Jennings on the women’s volleyball team and so many of the football and baseball and basketball guys and gals.  We went to their games and many of them came and rooted us on in our matches.

MB: We made so many friends there, and, of course, that is what you remember.

BB: And, without a doubt, all our tennis practices with the legendary coach Gould and assistant coach John Whitlinger were great, as were the trips and the matches. Without a doubt, the best memories we have are winning the NCAA team title our freshman and sophomore seasons before were turned pro. Those are moments we will never forget.  

MB: We were blessed with the two best coaches you could have, and we were lucky to have great teammates like Paul Goldstein, Ryan Wolters, Grant Elliott, Kevin Kim, Geoff Abrams, Misha Palecek, Charlie Hoeveler and Ali Ansari.

TSD: What is your relationship with coach Gould and former teammate/now coach Goldstein like?

MB: Our dad had always been a friend and fan of coach Gould’s and he told us before we went to Stanford to watch him and learn from him.

BB: He said that you’ll learn more from coach Gould than any professor that you have. Our dad admired his people skills and his inspirational coaching.

MB: We had so much fun, and, of course, learned so much about tennis and winning and losing and about life from coach Gould and coach Whit.

BB: We consider Coach Gould not only a leader and great coach, but he has also become a wonderful friend and supporter through our post-Stanford days.  We still hear from him most every week.

MB: We love the guy.

BB: As for Paul, he was two years older than us and was a junior when we came in as freshmen. He took us under his wing and showed us the ropes around campus and with our classes and the fraternity, and, of course, with the team. He helped us in so many ways and we’ll always be appreciative. He was our captain and our leader. We learned lots from him too.

MB: Paul is a great guy and he is a winner. We are happy to see him as the head coach now and we think he is doing a great job. The team upset No. 14 Northwestern to reach the Sweet 16 this past season.

BB: Paul set all kinds of records at Stanford and he did well on the pro tour. I agree with Mike that he is a winner and also a great speaker and overall class act. We remain close friends and would do anything for him.

TSD: What’s it like to play for your country at the Olympics and Davis Cup — any different from when you’re on tour playing for yourselves?  Are there any parallels with what it was like to play for your school?

MB: We love the team thing. We were on over 25 teams before coming to Stanford. We were very proud to play for Stanford and we knew coming in that the bar was set high — the expectation was to win the NCAA Team Championship each of our two years there, which we were able to accomplish.

BB: We really both feel that our two years at Stanford were the best two years of our lives.  Of course, we have loved being on the United States Davis Cup team for the past 14 years are always proud to play for and represent the United States and we were so happy to win the Davis Cup for the USA in 2007 with our teammates Andy Roddick and James Blake.

MB: By the way, our captain was Patrick McEnroe, who also played for Stanford and who also admires coach Gould.

BB: And we’ll never forget how after we clinched the last match in winning the Davis Cup title against Russia in Portland in December of 2007, all the guys on the bench came running out and jumped over the net and we all got in a big circle and started jumping up and down. And that lasted for about 20 to 30 seconds. Now compare that to winning the NCAAs — when Mike clinched the NCAA title in the finals against Georgia in Athens, the whole team mobbed him out on the middle court there, and, in no time, there were 200 guys from Stanford in a huge and high dog pile, and the celebrating went on for several minutes.

MB: Nothing can compare to the thrill of winning the NCAAs.  We love the team thing, and we’ll never forget that day at the UGA Stadium.

TSD: Take us back to the 2012 Games in London. You guys had some incredibly close matches, especially in the early rounds, on your way to the gold medal. What was it like to finally break through and win the gold on your third try, completing the elusive career Golden Slam? The Olympics aren’t often considered as highly as the Grand Slams in tennis, but where does that win rank for you?

BB: Our whole goal for 2012 was to win the gold.  We had been so disappointed to only reach the quarters in Athens, and only get the bronze medal in Beijing, and we were totally focused on that gold medal.

MB: It was the only goal we had set as little boys that we had not achieved.  

BB: And the fact that the tournament was to be held at the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon made it even more special. We were slated to play the Swiss team of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka early, but they lost to a team from Israel — Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram — and in the quarters we beat the Israelis in straight sets. In the semis we beat the French tandem of Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet, 6-4, 6-4.

MB: We had a tough match in the finals against two big servers and, again, a French team — Jo-Willie Tsonga and Michael Llodra.  They, of course, were tough on grass too. We’ll never forget that 6-4, 7-6 score and the huge thrill of winning the gold. On match point, Bob climbed halfway up the scoreboard to send a lob back and we ended up winning the point after a long and tough rally. We played well, and we were jacked about it.

BB: You know, tennis fans think that Wimbledon or the U.S. Open or the Davis Cup are the biggest titles to win, but to the average man on the street, winning an Olympic Gold seems to be the biggest thing.

MB: And for the next three months, we took those medals everywhere with us and kept ‘em in our tennis bags. Thousands and thousands of people came up to us and wanted to see and hold the medal and get their picture taken with it.

TSD: Your run of success is unparalleled.  How have you guys kept it going so long?  And how do you stay motivated when there really isn’t much in the sport you haven’t done?  

BB: Yes, we have reached every single goal that we set for ourselves on our list on the refrigerator when we were little tiny boys.

MB: Our parents always had us print our our short-term and long-term goals each year.  They were big believers in that and so are we, and we still do it.

BB: We are passionate about the great game of tennis, and we love playing and competing to this day — even though we have been playing for over 33 years now. And we just really like playing doubles together.

MB: We appreciate all the support we have received from the fans — not only in the U.S., but all over the world.  We have done our best to give back. Our parents and coach Gould certainly instilled that in us. We love what our Bryan Brothers Foundation has done to help deserving kids and kids programs through the years. We are proud to have donated over $700,000 to help youngsters in SoCal and across the nation.

BB: And we still like doing junior clinics and interacting with kids and their tennis and their music and their dreams.

TSD: Do you ever get tired of each other?

BB: Sometimes, but very not often. We actually get along pretty well. And if we are separated on different parts of the country, we end up calling each other about three or four times a day.

MB: The media is always trying to get a story of the Bryan Brothers not getting along, but it is very rare indeed.  

BB:  And not only do we like playing doubles together, but we also love playing music together. Our Bryan Brothers Band plays at about 15 big charity events and tournaments throughout the year. Jim Bogios, the famed drummer of the Counting Crows plays with our band lots. We have a blast doin’ it and have drawn some pretty huge crowds over the past few years, and we are blessed having some amazing musicians and singers in our group.

TSD: You said in 2013 that you’d like to retire after Rio … has anything changed in that regard? Will there be one last U.S. Open?

BB: Yeah, we said after we won London that we’d like to play Rio and then maybe call it a day. But now that it is just around the corner, we might like to stay on a big longer. Maybe one more year?

MB: Maybe two.

BB: We have been pretty fortunate to be injury-free most of our careers. We have hardly ever had to default a match.

TSD: What are you most excited for upon retirement?

MB: I don’t think we can say we are excited about retirement. We are having too much fun and we love what we do.  Look, nobody likes all the travel and all the time you have to spend on the road and in airplanes, airports and hotels, but all in all, it has been a great journey.

BB: And once again, we owe so much to Stanford and coach Gould and coach Whit.

Contact Neel Ramachandran at neelr ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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