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The Bryan Brothers: Mike vs Bob

January 8, 2016 10:00 AM

USTA Tennessee is eager to welcome the Bryan Brothers and other tennis greats to Music City come February for The Nashville Tennis Classic! We've got our calendars marked for February 16th and our tickets purchased, but now what?!

Tom Perrotta, from, sat down with Bob and Mike Bryan, separately, to talk about each other, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they still hope to accomplish. Let's find out a bit more about the dynamic duo and what Tennessee tennis fans can expect on February 16th at the Nashville Tennis Classic...


What’s the most satisfying title of your career and why?

BOB BRYAN: We’re most proud of the Olympic gold medal. But I would say the most satisfying win was 2009, winning the ATP World Tour Finals. We finished No. 2 the year before to [Nenad] Zimonjic and [Daniel] Nestor, and we were just devastated. Mathematically, we had a shred of a chance of finishing No. 1 when we arrived in London. We needed them to help us out by losing a bunch and then we needed to win the tournament. It came down to just that and we ended up finishing No. 1 in the world by about 35 ranking points.


MIKE BRYAN: I’d say the Olympics in 2012. Winning the gold transcended tennis, and becoming a part of a special club of gold-medal winners. It seemed like we got more recognition for that than for winning Wimbledon or any other Slam. That was really cool.


What’s the worst thing your brother has ever done to you?

MIKE: He got engaged before me. I had been dating my wife now for five years up until that point, and he and his girlfriend at the time had only been dating a year. It kind of put a lot of friction between me and my wife; she had waited for so long and Bob was first to the punch. That was a tough day. And he didn’t tell me he was going to do it. He just went out, bought her a ring and went to Big Sur and got engaged. He didn’t even warn me!


BOB: We used to always split our prize money. I would be out there grinding mixed doubles matches while [Mike] was sitting on the couch. I was out there making him money—I had won seven mixed doubles titles, plus two Huggy Bears (exhibitions) and another $350,000 in singles and Mike’s basically riding the rails. And then I got married and we split up our finances—and that’s when Mike jumped back out there on the mixed doubles court and won Wimbledon and didn’t give me a dime. I was a little bitter about that for a while. The injustice of it all!


What’s the best shot you’ve ever hit while playing with your brother?

BOB: We had lost three Grand Slam finals in a row in 2005. We were playing the U.S. Open final, going for the anti-Slam, basically. It was 3–all or 4–all in second set, after winning the first set against [Jonas] Bjorkman and [Max] Mirnyi. And on deuce point I hit an inside-out forehand winner. Then a reflex winner on break point to basically put us in great position to win the match and end the drought.


MIKE: The one that comes to mind is the one I hit around the net pole [at the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals]. That was probably the highlight of my career, going around the net pole and missing the ball kid’s head by an inch and hitting a winner. It was a running forehand on a pretty big point. I’ve never really done any of those flashy shots. And I had to run it down; it was like a 15-foot sprint.


What’s the worst shot you’ve ever hit while playing with your brother?

MIKE: We had match point in the final of Cincinnati a few years back and Andy Ram hit a second serve that was literally 70 miles an hour to my backhand, which is my favorite shot. It was a sitter and I don’t think I’ve missed too many of those in my career. And I just got tight on it and flailed it like 10 feet long.


BOB: It was the third-set tiebreak in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and we were defending champions. It was against [Mark] Knowles and [Mahesh] Bhupathi and we were up 4–1 in the tiebreaker. And I had a sitting duck on top of the net, a swing volley, which is my bread and butter. I would make that 999 times out of 1,000. I missed it and we ended up losing the match. And Mike reminded me about it for about three months. Every ball I’d miss in practice, he would just go, ‘Choker!’ He needled me about it for so long.


What’s the best match that you two have ever played?

BOB: I look to the 2004 Davis Cup final match that we played against Spain in Seville. It was the biggest tennis crowd in history at the time, 27,500 fans. It was just a dizzying amount of people. When we walked out there I almost fell over because the fans were just stacked so high. We played [Tommy] Robredo and [Juan Carlos] Ferrero and we played lights out. I think we lost five or six games in the whole match. I just remember walking on the court and we didn’t miss a ball.


MIKE: The 2005 U.S. Open final was a perfect match. It was a much-needed performance because we had lost three Grand Slam finals in a row. That was a really big turning point in our career, and it was right when we hired our coach, Dave MacPherson. We went out there with a different, aggressive mentality. We just destroyed Bjorkman and Mirnyi, 6–1, 6–4, but I think it was under an hour. It was pretty flawless.


If your brother decided to retire, would you still play?

MIKE: I think we’d go out together. I don’t think there’s the same satisfaction of going out there and playing with someone else. I think right now, we’ve done what we’ve wanted to do in doubles. It would be tough to find a partner as good as Bob.


BOB: Ha! Zimonjic has been bugging me to go out there and try to win two extra titles to catch up to Mike. (Mike has won doubles tournaments with Knowles and Bhupathi.) He’s been hitting me up for years saying, “When are we going to suit up, when are you going to get those two titles back?” And my wife wants me to do it, she wants me to tie Mike. Just so he’s not in his rocking chair laughing with a smirk on his face when we’re 90 years old. But I mean realistically, I think if he got injured today, I would stop too.


How often do you play each other in singles, and who has won more matches?

BOB: Every day in practice, we play baseline games and sets. And we keep a running tally. It’s a very loose scoring tally because Mike always changes it so that’s he winning. I don’t feel like I’ve lost to him very often, but if you ask him the same question he’s probably going to say that he dominates the rivalry.


MIKE: We’ve played each other in singles so many times. It’s thousands; I mean, it’s pretty much every practice. But I would say that I have won more times over the last couple of years than he has beaten me.


Bob says he leads the head-to-head…

MIKE: He says he’s ahead? You’ve got to ask a third party. It’s pretty damn even, it’s amazing.


Who was your favorite player to watch as a kid?

MIKE: We’re both big [Andre] Agassi guys. We posterized our walls and cut out every picture. If he lost to [Pete] Sampras, we would cry. We saw him in Indian Wells back in 1987 or ’88, and we were blown away by how hard he hit the ball and his clothes. We got his autograph. I think he said a few words to us and from that point, that was it.


BOB: [Agassi] was a super hero. We wore his clothes, those jean shorts with the pink tights, and our legs were so skinny it was like we had hanging little pieces of cloth attached to our legs. It was terrible, but we idolized the guy.


Do you always know what your brother is going to do on court?

BOB: We have a lot of unspoken communication: Our mannerisms, stuff we don’t even really think about or talk about. Not stepping on lines when we sit, which chairs we sit in, how we put our racquets in our bag, what showers we use, the things we eat each day—we’re very superstitious.


MIKE: I can feel it out. I know what shots he likes to hit, so I can anticipate where to move. And [based on the] score, I know his favorite serves or returns. That’s just spending years and years together hitting thousands of balls together. I can look at his face and tell you what he’s thinking out there. He’s got certain looks.


If your brother is having a bad day on court, what do you say to him?

MIKE: I’ve found that when we’re playing our best we’re not saying too much. He’s going to take it the wrong way no matter what you say. I try to be encouraging, keep going for your shots and all that, but he doesn’t want to hear that coming from his brother. If he’s having a tough day, I just try to let him work it out. You definitely don’t want to tell him what to do, like, “Hit your backhand more in front.” That won’t work. I sometimes try to say, “I’m doing this, but I think we should both do this,” and maybe he takes it better.


BOB: It’s best to stay positive with each other. We have our best results when we say the right things. Usually it’s a slippery slope once you start talking, it can spiral out of control, we’ve had that happen to us hundreds of times. When Mike gets broken, say he loses a serve, misses a couple of volleys, I try to say, “OK, let’s break right back.” Or I don’t say anything at all. I feel like a lot of times we’re playing our best tennis when we’re not talking to each other, and when we’re not as mouthy.


What is your favorite Grand Slam tournament and why?

BOB: My favorite Slam right now is the U.S. Open just because we have such a good setup, we stay at a nice hotel by Central Park. It’s great to take the kids to the zoo there, take them on horse and carriage rides. The U.S. Open really hooks us up with practice courts; we get great transportation; we have an extra area for massage.


MIKE: The Australian Open is pretty awesome. The city is so convenient, being right across the river. The fans are really knowledgeable about doubles. They appreciate the matches. It’s the first tournament of the year. It’s great weather. The hard courts play kind of like California, and also we’ve won it six times and been in the finals nine times.


What’s your brother’s best skill or strength as a player?

MIKE: He brings an aggressive mentality, he brings the power. He’s a risk taker. He likes to make the big move during a big moment. When most guys wouldn’t have the balls to poach—he’ll go and make the big poach. When the money’s on the line, he takes chances and reads the game really well. He can see it quicker than most guys and makes the right decisions.


BOB: He’s the best doubles returner and he’s very clutch. He takes points in the ad court, and I think he’s got incredible touch on the backhand volley. He can lay those carve volleys down and hits some angles that defy physics.


What’s your brother’s strength as a musician?

BOB: Mike played drums until about 2000 and then his wrist started going out. Too much tennis, too much drums: it’s not a good combo. Then he switched to guitar. His strength as a musician is his work ethic. He practices a lot. He’s very good with his scales and he’s a good teacher too. He gives Kevin Anderson a lot of lessons and he’s pretty patient.


MIKE: As a musician he’s actually really solid. There’s a thing called the pocket in music, where you’re in the zone. He holds the pocket like no one else. Because he plays the bass on his left hand [on piano] and it is just solid, it never moves. It’s just the backbone of the music. He’s really creative too with his recording. When we’re playing live, he’ll play just a steady, steady bass. He’s getting there, getting better!


What about each other makes you jealous?

MIKE: I wish I could finish a match, jump in a car and leave. He never stretches, he never gets a massage. I’m the total opposite. I’ll finish a match, I’ve got to cool down, stretch and get a massage. If I don’t stretch, I’m a little sore or I get injured.


BOB: Maybe the amount of free time he has. He has limitless hours in the day to do whatever he wants. He plays guitar for a good part of the day; I touch my keyboard for 15 seconds at a time and I’m lucky. We’ve got the kids running around. But I wouldn’t change it. And he’ll have kids pretty soon I think.


You have very different diets [Mike is gluten-free]. Do you gross each other out?

BOB: He’s a very strict gluten-free guy. I don’t know how he eats plain quinoa and plain rice and chicken with no sauce. I’m not like that, I need a little more flavor. But he just pounds it down day after day, which kinds of grosses me out basically after a week of it. He can just shovel cardboard down.


MIKE: He eats a little unhealthier than me. He’s not afraid to go to Taco Bell; he likes this place called Wapo Taco in Miami. And this place, it has good tacos, but it’s pretty greasy. I’ll be burping that stuff up for hours after. But his stomach is like an iron tank—maybe I’m jealous of his stomach, too.


What has it been like for your wife, being married to a twin?

MIKE: She just had to accept that we’ve got a special bond. Even though my wife and I have a special bond with each other, sometimes twin bonds might be even tighter. It takes a while to get used to. She had to get used to the FaceTime in the morning; the first thing I do is FaceTime Bob. So we’re always checking in and sometimes she’s like, “Put down the damn phone!” It’s amazing how tight we are.


BOB: All the twin stuff probably freaked her out. The fact that we’ll be on opposite coasts and we’ve just seen each other for the last three weeks, and he’s FaceTiming me two or three times a day and we’re catching up on the phone, that was a shock to her. He wants to touch base and hear what we’re doing. Just the closeness is probably tough for her and for other people to understand. It’s very different.