Somewhere in the museum of obsolete athletic skills—home to the spitball, the skyhook, and the Statue of Liberty play—a special wing will have to be set aside for tennis. The chip shot and the lob may be there one day, alongside other sadly devalued inventions. There will be glass cases displaying wooden racquets with cow-gut strings, sepia-toned photographs of dapper men in long cotton pants, and, at the center of the exhibit, an interactive screen explaining why, exactly, anyone ever bothered coming to the net.
Few sports have evolved so dramatically in the past forty years, or been so utterly transformed by technology. Drop a young Pelé onto a modern soccer field and he would still dribble circles around most players. A DiMaggio in his twenties could go on a hitting spree in the major leagues tomorrow. But even Rod Laver in his prime, when he twice won all four grand-slam tournaments in a calendar year, would be flummoxed by today’s game: the giant carbon-fibre racquets, the synthetic strings that send every shot spinning and dipping over the court, and Andy Roddick at the baseline, blasting serves at a hundred and fifty miles per hour. It would seem less like tennis than like target practice.
Early one afternoon this past spring, I went to see Serena Williams play the Chinese athlete Li Na at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. The match was held in a fourteen-thousand-seat stadium encircled by luxury skyboxes—a setting unimaginable fifty years ago, when the top pros still carpooled to tournaments in a station wagon, and portable canvas courts had to be set up at fairgrounds. Williams and Na did what tennis players do these days, which is to say they ran along the baseline and whacked balls at each other as hard as possible. Their rallies were sometimes riveting—sheer aggression has its appeal—but also emphatically one-dimensional. If today’s game can make the tennis of the seventies look like “dinosaur ball,” as one coach recently told the Times, its speed has come at a cost. Players like Laver were as cunning as they were athletic. They didn’t play points so much as construct them: mixing aces and off-speed serves, stranding opponents with feathery drop shots or cutting them off with angled volleys. In the modern game, that variety has largely been levelled off. The protean grace of Roger Federer and the fierce athleticism of Rafael Nadal have masked a striking sameness in most of the players below them. Of the top twenty-five men, all but one—Radek Stepanek—play predominantly from the backcourt, and the women come to the net even less often. “All the kids hit the same damn shots,” Rosie Casals, who won twelve grand-slam titles beginning in the late sixties, told me. “They don’t know how to slice or change pace or chop or do something different. They don’t know how to set up a point, how to orchestrate, or what a good transition is. They don’t have a clue.”
To see something closer to Casals’s ideal—to the game of tennis as it was refined and elaborated for more than a century—you had to walk across the tournament grounds, to a grandstand well beyond the stadium’s roar. A small but attentive crowd had gathered there—mostly club players, I guessed, from their grizzled faces and mumbled comments—to watch the quarterfinals of the men’s doubles competition. At one end of the court, some Brazilian fans had draped a flag across a wall and were whooping on their countryman, Bruno Soares, who was paired with Kevin Ullyett, of Zimbabwe. The two men were veterans of the doubles circuit. They wore old-fashioned tennis whites and leaped about on the bright-purple hard court, flicking reflex volleys and high, arcing lobs. To most of the crowd, though, the match’s main attraction was across the net: the Americans Bob and Mike Bryan.
The Bryan brothers are the best doubles team of their generation. They came to Miami ranked No. 1 in the world, as they had been for most of the previous four years, and they’d won the last two grand-slam titles, at the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. Instead of white, they wore sleek black shorts and caps, electric-blue jerseys, and sneakers with double-sided uppers: one half silver with black stripes, the other half black with silver stripes. The mirror-image motif was intentional: the Bryans are identical twins, born two minutes apart. They have the same tall, lanky frame and dark, square-jawed good looks, and, more than any team before them, they play doubles as if they were a single organism. “The Bryans have an unfair advantage,” Daniel Nestor, one of their principal rivals on the doubles circuit, told me. “They have that little E.S.P. thing going.”
The connection is easiest to see when the ball isn’t in play. Most teams like to huddle at the baseline between points to discuss strategy: Should I return it cross-court or down the line? Should I hold position or try to poach a volley? The Bryans hardly say a word. They rarely use hand signals or set plays, yet everything they do looks choreographed. Whenever Soares or Ullyett stepped up to serve, for instance, the Bryans would prepare for the point with the same routine. They’d stand equidistant from the centerline, facing forward. They’d hop from one foot to the other for a few beats, in perfect step, as if listening to the same disco soundtrack. Then, without a sideways glance, they’d leap forward with both feet—once, twice—landing in a crouch, their racquets pointed at the net. In between games, the twins would sit side by side and rest, swigging water from identical bottles as ball girls in red miniskirts held matching sun umbrellas above them. I felt like I was at the Ziegfeld Follies.
“We don’t even know we’re doing it,” Mike told me later, after they’d won the match in straight sets. “When I watch the tapes, I can’t believe it.” Yet doubles is all about synchronized motion. It’s a game that favors strategy over strength, quickness over endurance, net play over ground strokes—the tennis that time forgot. For years, the Bryans liked nothing better than to face a pair of cocky singles stars who’d joined forces to play doubles. “They basically had no tools,” Bob said. While the other team tried to cover the court from the baseline, the Bryans divided and subdivided it like rooks on a chessboard, cutting off every angle. One ran wide for a shot, pulling the other into the middle; one fell back for a lob, yanking the other with him to defend the full court. “It’s like there is a belt tied around both your waists, five feet apart,” Mike told me. “More like six,” Bob said. Then he added, “I know where he’s going to hit every ball.”
The Bryans are as close as tennis may get to a genetically engineered doubles team. Their mother, Kathy, was a national champion at fifteen and a mixed-doubles quarterfinalist at Wimbledon. Their father, Wayne, was the top tennis player at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and managed a large racquet club in nearby Camarillo. Mike was born right-handed, Bob left-handed (a distinct advantage in doubles: their serves come in at different angles, keeping opponents off balance, and they can choose turns so that neither of them has to serve into the sun). “The whole thing, just out of the chutes, had utopia written all over it,” Mark Bey, a tennis coach and longtime family friend, told me. By the age of two, the twins were sitting in ball baskets at the club while their parents gave lessons. At four, they were taking lessons themselves. At six, they won their first tournament.
Professional tennis is a merciless winnower of talent. The margin between champions and also-rans can be vanishingly fine: a few inches in height, a few words from a gifted coach. The Bryans are products of this calculus as well as exceptions to it. For years, they were undersized for their age group yet managed to dominate it. “They were small, thin machines,” Bey recalls. To Wayne, his sons’ success is less a testament to breeding than to upbringing—a genially self-serving theory that he expounds at length in his 2004 book, “Raising Your Child to Be a Champion in Athletics, Arts, and Academics,” written with the journalist Woody Woodburn. “There is no such thing as a natural passion,” he told me, when I mentioned that my own daughters have very different interests and abilities in music and sports. “If your daughters lived with us, they’d be great singers and great players, too.” He laughed. “They’d also be No. 1 in tennis.”
The Bryans were uneasy about having children, and blindsided by the twins—when Kathy first saw the two spinal columns in an ultrasound, she began to cry. Still, there were some benefits to having two at once. “It’s an immediate band, an immediate doubles team, an immediate bunch of fun,” Wayne says. The twins were an ideal laboratory for child rearing, he adds. “We knew that they had the same talent coefficient, same brain, same coördination. But everything undulated—their weight, their height, their facility for the game.” People were always comparing the boys and trying to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses, but their parents worried that such judgments were self-fulfilling. So they took the opposite approach. If one boy couldn’t throw as far as the other, or do multiplication as quickly, they’d quietly coach or tutor him till he caught up. “The egalitarianism required is astounding,” Wayne says. “You cannot say, ‘Great forehand, Mike!’ without Bob drooping his head. You have to say, ‘Great forehand, Mike! Great backhand, Bob!’ You have to say, ‘Great red shirt, Bob! Great blue shirt, Mike!’ ”
Wayne’s Master Plan, as his sons now call it, began with a household stripped of distractions. No television or video games were allowed, and neither parent drank or smoked. The twins had three to four hours of tennis a day, an hour or more of homework, and another hour of music. Every few months, they had to write lists of goals and post them on the refrigerator, like corporate mission statements. The early lists included making straight A’s, winning local tournaments, and learning to play “Louie, Louie.” Later, they shifted to N.C.A.A. Championships and scholarships to Stanford. These days, the list is down to one entry: breaking the all-time record for doubles titles, held by the Australians Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge. (The Woodies, as they were known, won sixty-one titles; the Bryans have fifty-four.) “This wasn’t an accident, what happened here,” Wayne says. “We set the table beautifully and they ate.”
As a boy, Wayne had despised his own piano lessons and hour-long practice sessions, so he tried to disguise his sons’ instruction as entertainment—to motivate them “through the side door,” as he puts it. At the club, his group classes usually took the form of games: Who can topple that stack of tennis cans? Who can hit the most forehands in a row? At home, rather than giving his sons music lessons, he turned them into the rhythm section for an oldies cover band—Mike on drums, Bob on keyboards, Wayne on guitar and lead vocals. “We didn’t know what we were playing, but we had everything memorized,” Mike says. “We were like trained monkeys.” On the weekends, Wayne would take the boys to see tennis matches, or have the band perform at talent shows. Then, just when they were most inspired to play, he would restrict their practice time to keep them wanting more. “It’s motivation first, playing first, learning later,” he says. “Lessons are bullcrap.”
At one point, when the twins were ten, they became obsessed with getting a Nintendo video-game system. Their parents refused at first, but finally relented, on two conditions: that the boys complete a yearlong cycle of chores that Wayne had printed out on a chart, and that they play video games only on Friday nights from seven to eight. To Wayne’s surprise, his sons kept the first half of the bargain. Less than a month after they’d got the machine, however, Wayne drove home one school night to find the den window aglow with television light. Worse, the twins had cut out of tennis practice early that afternoon, saying that they had too much homework to do. “I almost went through the roof of my car,” Wayne says. The next morning, at breakfast, he took down the lists of goals from the refrigerator and asked the boys if they were still committed to them. When they said yes, he carried the Nintendo behind the house and heaved it into a ravine. “It made a huge bang when it hit,” he says. “And it’s still down there rusting right now.”
Tennis has had more than its share of stage parents—some, like Mary Pierce’s father, have been served with restraining orders. But the Bryans, by and large, have sunny memories of their childhood. “Our whole life was tennis,” Bob says. “But we had fun doing it together.” The boys had the usual twin affinities—inconsolable when kept in separate cribs, reliant on a private “Martian language” that eventually landed them in speech therapy. Until kindergarten, they were with each other nearly every waking and sleeping hour. Then, when they were put in different classes, they spent their mornings waiting for recess, when they could run out to find each other on the playground.
“We freaked out,” Bob says.
“It just didn’t feel right,” Mike says. “We’d meet up and say, ‘Dude, we’ve got to get back together.’ ”
At the club, their practice sessions could go on forever. Neither wanted to cede the last point to the other, so they always fought to an exhausted draw. “It could get brutal sometimes,” Kathy Bryan told me. While Wayne was usually in charge of group lessons, his wife had the more difficult task of perfecting her sons’ strokes—of transmuting talent and enthusiasm into skill. She says that even the most trivial exercises would turn into tooth-and-nail battles. “Balls just firing at each other point-blank. Things said that were unacceptable. I mean, you know, they were brothers. Nobody was ever hospitalized, but we did have ball impressions left on people’s backs and foreheads.”
The issue came to an impasse early on, when the twins were six and both reached the final of a ten-and-under tournament. After struggling to keep the boys on equal footing, their parents feared that a single match would tip the balance. “We’d seen that with other siblings,” Wayne says. “One beats the other, and suddenly that’s the way it is forever. It’s set in concrete.” In some cases, the weaker sibling quit tennis altogether. At one tournament, the Bryans saw a losing twin smash his runner-up trophy against the club’s stucco wall. “It’s tough enough to lose without having someone in your family beat you,” Kathy says. The solution was simple, she and Wayne decided: their sons would flip a coin. The loser would have to default and let his brother win the trophy. The next time they met in a final, it would be the other boy’s turn to win.
Over the next ten years, the Bryans reached the finals of more than a hundred tournaments, but never faced each other. “I think it was a smart play by my parents,” Bob says. “You can’t be No. 1 in the world if you’re No. 2 in your own bedroom. As long as one of us came home with the hardware, it was O.K. We were just trophy collectors.” Others were less enthusiastic. The Bryans were being overprotective or unsporting, some coaches and tournament directors said. “Even their grandparents weren’t supportive,” Kathy says. “They wanted them pitted against each other.”
That moment finally came in 1993, at the U.S.T.A.’s insistence, when the twins turned fifteen and joined the junior national team. At the Fiesta Bowl tournament in Phoenix that December, the Bryans met in the final, with Bob winning in straight sets. The following week, at a tournament in Tucson, Mike returned the favor. By the time they quit the junior national tour, two years later, their head-to-head record was eight and eight.
The twins are thirty-one now, and the urge to compare them is stronger than ever. It’s a kind of parlor game among those who know them. Bob is flashier, they say, more free-flowing on the court; Mike is more deliberate, better organized. Bob is right-brained; Mike is left-brained. Bob can eat anything; Mike is allergic to gluten. Both brothers look larger in person than you’d expect—television tends to shrink athletes with its wide-angle shots, just as it stretches actors with closeups—but, at six feet four, Bob is an inch taller and fifteen pounds heavier. He hits a harder ball, I was told by Martina Navratilova, with whom he won a U.S. Open mixed-doubles title. But Mike makes fewer mistakes—at least according to Lisa Raymond, with whom he won the mixed doubles at the French Open.
When I met them one morning at the Brickell Tennis Club, in downtown Miami, they were washed out and groggy with recent sleep. They’d lost a hard-fought semifinal the day before, to the Australians Stephen Huss and Ashley Fisher, and had spent the night playing poker at the Hard Rock Café. They were scheduled to pose for a fashion shoot for Tampa Bay Illustrated, but they weren’t thrilled with the clothes. Mike was dressed like a French sailor, with bright-white pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt, striped navy and white. Bob looked like more of a Hamptons gadabout, with a red polo shirt, brown plaid pants, and a woven white belt with a large penguin on the buckle. They’d been getting a lot of grief from other players about a shoot they’d done for the magazine SOBeFiT—“The word people have been using a lot is ‘fruity,’ ” Bob said—and it looked as if they were in for more of the same. “This stuff is pretty rough,” he said, lacing up a pair of royal-blue deck shoes. “I wouldn’t wear this for Halloween.”
At one point, while I was talking to Bob, I turned to ask the photographer a question. When I turned back around, Bob was gone, but Mike was sitting on a stool covered in a smock, having his makeup done. I went over and talked to him, going over the same ground I’d just covered with Bob. It was a while before I realized that this was Bob—he’d answered to Mike’s name as if they were one and the same.
The confusion can come in handy. At the Hard Rock Café, they’d passed chips to each other and played as a team all night without anyone complaining. “They put us at the same table, so we had a little scheme going,” Bob said. “When one guy would raise, we would all call at the same time.” In the end, Bob won a hundred and eighty-eight dollars and Mike lost three hundred, but it could have been worse. “I don’t think those guys realized that we share a bank account,” Bob said.
The Bryans have earned more than six million dollars in prize money in their eleven years on the tour, and have split every dime down the middle—whether they won it playing singles, doubles, or mixed doubles. They co-own a house in Camarillo, not far from their parents’ place, and another in Tampa Bay, where James Blake and Mardy Fish live. (All four of them have been on the Davis Cup team and like to hang out in the off-season, playing cards and video games.) Although the Bryans have never wanted for money—they signed endorsement deals with Adidas, Wilson, and Oakley, worth several hundred thousand dollars, straight out of college—they still take a boyish glee in their good fortune, as if they were pooling their allowances to buy a BB gun. Later that day, after a two-hour workout at the hotel, they spent twenty minutes pedalling side by side on exercise bikes. When they were almost done, Bob held up his iPhone for Mike to see—there was a stock-market ticker onscreen—and started to speed up. Mike instantly matched his pace.
“Come on! Every Dow point ten grand.”
“Twenty-eight, twenty-nine . . . thirty-one.”
“Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five . . . Come home, baby!”
“Thirty-nine! Dude, it’s blowing up in my hand!”
Like many people, the twins had taken a hit in the stock market. “We played last year for free,” Mike said. Still, when they got off the bikes they were less concerned with where the market had closed than with who had pedalled faster.
“I hit a hundred and seventy r.p.m.s.”
“I hit a hundred and seventy-four, and everyone saw it.”
Off the court as well as on it, the Bryans tend to stick to their parents’ script. They still divide their time between tennis and music, and bring their instruments to every tournament. At their hotel suite that afternoon, Bob sat down at the dining-room table with a towel around his shoulders, balanced a portable keyboard on his knees, and began to plunk out a bass line with two fingers. Mike patched his electric guitar through a sampling module and his laptop and joined in, playing a bluesy solo from a song by John Mayer. Neither of the brothers can read music or sing reliably on pitch—“Our dad was better at motivating us for sports,” Mike said—and their repertoire has some odd omissions. (When I showed them the chords to “Pinball Wizard,” they looked at me a little blankly and asked if it was a song from the seventies.) But they can improvise over almost any rock or blues progression, and they have an easy, intuitive rhythm together. Their first album, “Let It Rip,” with the singer David Baron, will be released in September.
While the Bryans ran through one of their own, tennis-themed power ballads—“I can’t be broken again. I’ve got to hold on now”—I looked around the room. Aside from some clothes and open suitcases on the floor, the only personal belongings were a pair of leopard-print high-heeled shoes. Bob glanced at them and grinned. “She’s basically moved in,” he said. Although Mike has had a steady girlfriend for more than a year—an events manager from Wales named Lucille Williams—the tour can be hard on couples, even without an identical twin hanging around. Tennis has the longest and most itinerant season of any major sport: more than sixty tournaments on six continents over eleven months. The Bryans always share housing on the road, rarely vacation apart, and reserve the right to veto each other’s romantic decisions. “It’s kind of a package deal,” Mike’s girlfriend says.
The twins came late to dating, as they did to most ordinary concerns. By the age of sixteen, they say, they were missing a hundred days of school a year and faxing in their homework from tournaments in France and Japan. “We never went to high-school parties, never went to the prom, never went to one high-school dance,” Bob says. When they were admitted to Stanford in 1996, per the Master Plan, the transition came as something of a shock. “We were pretty green,” Bob says. The university, like their kindergarten in Camarillo, insisted on separating them at first, in buildings at opposite ends of the campus. Mike’s dorm mates were all freshmen, Bob’s mostly upperclassmen—the majority, in his estimation, “a bunch of dorks.” After a month, he carried an egg-crate mattress to Mike’s room, plopped it on the floor, and lived there the rest of the year. “It was just too far apart, too much of a drastic change,” he says. “It was nice to have your brother around to figure it out.”
Tennis, by comparison, came easy. On the junior tour, the Bryans had made up in consistency what they lacked in size—“They just didn’t miss balls,” Mark Bey says. Now, as they put on muscle and sprouted over six feet, they learned to take risks, to be more aggressive. “Kathy was so technically solid that it’s no surprise that they were fundamentally sound,” Dick Gould, their coach at Stanford, told me. “But some kids never get out of that.” Their freshman year, the Bryans helped lead Stanford to an N.C.A.A. Championship. The following year, they won the singles and doubles titles as well. The team went undefeated in 1998, losing only two singles matches and one doubles series, for a combined record of 173–3. “In thirty-eight years of coaching, I had two truly great teams,” Gould says. “One was in 1978 with John McEnroe, and the other was with the Bryans.” The difference, he says, was that the Bryans’ team got along. Rather than compete for the No. 1 slot on the team, the top four players agreed to rotate their rankings—continuing the Bryans’ long tradition of willed equality. “I’ve never seen a team do that, and I think you’ll never see it again,” Gould says. “The ’78 team would have been at each other’s throats.”
That spring, when Mike went to the N.C.A.A. tournament, he was undefeated in singles. He played well in the opening round, Wayne says, but got rattled by a noisy fan in his next match and lost to a player whom he had beaten before. His brother, meanwhile, “played like crap, muddled through, and then got hot,” Wayne recalls. “Everyone says, ‘Bob won the N.C.A.A.s. He’s the good one.’ The truth is, Mike had the best sophomore season.” That summer, when the Bryans met with Gould to talk about returning to Stanford in the fall, he told them not to bother. “Why?” he says. “They’d won everything there was to win.”
Tennis was at a turning point when the Bryans joined the pro tour in 1998: Bob was the first of Gould’s players to win an N.C.A.A. Championship from the baseline. Gould had tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to come to the net more often—“one of my biggest disappointments as a coach,” he calls it—but with his booming serve and tireless ground strokes Bob soon rose up through the rankings, beating future stars like Tim Henman and James Blake. “I was the chosen one,” he told me one afternoon. “I was the LeBron James who never became LeBron James.”
We were sitting at a juice bar in the Four Seasons Hotel. The twins had both ordered peanut-butter protein shakes and were dutifully consuming them, though the shakes had the consistency of wet sawdust. “We’re not eating for pleasure, we’re eating for work,” Mike said. “If I only eat three meals, I’ll lose four or five pounds in one day.” Bob has less trouble building muscle than his brother—one reason, perhaps, that his serve is ten miles an hour faster. (“Ten minimum,” he said.) And though Mike has the stronger, more consistent return, it’s a lesser weapon in singles.
“Bob was doing pretty well right away,” Mike said. “He got up to a hundred and eighteen in the rankings.”
“A hundred and sixteen, buddy,” Bob said. He glanced at his brother. “Mike got up to two hundred and forty-six.”
“I was kind of injured at the time.”
“I had hip issues.”
“Mental issues. Mike was a hothead.”
“My game wasn’t translating. I was a net-rusher, and it wasn’t working.”
“Mike was still playing in the seventies.”
“Bob was sucking up all the wild cards, because he won the N.C.A.A. in singles.”
Bob laughed. “The U.S.T.A. pinned all its hopes on me,” he said. He shrugged. “I never gave it a full chance. We both never did. We were playing half schedules.”
Patrick McEnroe, the Bryans’ coach on the Davis Cup team, believes that Bob could have made it into the top fifty had he continued playing singles, though he lacks the litheness and fluidity of the very top players. The tour increasingly demanded a choice, however. If you made it to the doubles final of one tournament, you often had to miss the qualifying rounds for singles in the next. For most players, the decision was easy: the doubles tour had never drawn great crowds, its purses were smaller, and it was becoming more marginalized every year. But the Bryans were more highly ranked in doubles (within months of joining the tour, they beat one of the world’s best teams, Patrick Rafter and Jonas Björkman), and they could play in the major tournaments and slams. For a while, they tried switching off between the two games, but they always felt rusty. Finally, in 2001, after they’d lost in the first doubles round of the Australian Open, Mike asked Bob if they could stop playing singles in order to focus on their team. “We were kind of at a crossroads—mediocre at both,” Mike said. “Well, it was kind of me at first. Bob was about to break through.”
“I was still kicking ass. But Mike said, ‘Come with me,’ and I said, ‘All right, I’ll sacrifice my career for the team, brother.’ ” A month later, they won their first doubles tournament on the tour, in Memphis.
Had the Bryans come along a generation or two earlier, they wouldn’t have had to choose. The top players were expected to compete in all three events—singles, doubles, and mixed doubles—and tournaments were structured accordingly. “I always, always, always played doubles,” Martina Navratilova told me. “It was just an automatic.” Doubles sharpens your volleying skills and makes you a more complete player, she says. But the more compelling reason was financial. In 1970, when Margaret Court won all four grand-slam singles titles, her total winnings came to fifteen thousand dollars. It wasn’t until a decade later—buoyed by a tennis craze, television contracts, and corporate endorsements—that players could afford to specialize. By 1980, Wimbledon alone was paying its women’s singles champion forty thousand dollars; by 1990, it was paying three hundred and sixty thousand. This year, a player who managed to replicate Margaret Court’s feat would have earned more than six million dollars.
With so much money on the line, more and more players began to skip the doubles circuit to rest up for singles. John McEnroe, for instance, won fifty-one doubles titles with Peter Fleming from the late seventies through the mid-eighties, and was ranked No. 1 in the world for a record five straight years. (“What’s the best doubles team?” the joke used to go. “McEnroe and anyone else.”) Yet, in the latter half of his career, he all but quit playing doubles. As much as he loved the game, he told me recently, “there have been times when it cost me major titles.” In 1980, for example, in his epic Wimbledon final against Björn Borg, McEnroe was visibly exhausted after a thirty-four-point tiebreak in the fourth set. “Not only did Borg have a day off before the match, but I played Connors in the semis and had to go back out and play doubles,” he said. By the fifth set, McEnroe had nothing left. “I was a better grass-court player, but he was in better shape.”
McEnroe’s game was never the same after he quit playing doubles—“He wasn’t a great practice player,” Dick Gould says. “The doubles kept him on the court”—and some say the same pattern has been repeated by tennis as a whole. Most of today’s players have too little match experience, Navratilova says, and doubles would improve their volleying and their transition games: “Maybe it’s inconvenient. Maybe you’ll lose a few matches. But if you’re that tired, then you need to get in better shape—I mean, doubles is not that exhausting. And for every match you lose you’ll probably win five more.” When Navratilova retired in 2006, after winning the U.S. Open with Bob Bryan at the age of forty-nine, she had a record three hundred and forty-four singles and doubles titles. By specializing in singles, she says, players today are being “very nearsighted and very silly.”
One morning in Miami, as I was walking down the tournament concourse, I came across Bud Collins, the sports columnist and television commentator. He was standing on a small stage next to the Bombay Sapphire Lounge, interviewing a pair of female doubles players. Collins, who is eighty, is the aging court jester of tennis and a keeper of its history. (“I’m public property,” he says.) He was dressed in his usual motley—pink shirt, rainbow socks, orange cap, and candy-striped pants—and was working the microphone like a carnival barker. He couldn’t get much of a crowd. Women’s doubles has become monotonous, he said afterward, over drinks at an outdoor café. “They just hang back at the baseline. It makes Billie Jean King bilious just to think about it.”
The trouble with tennis began long before the prize money increased, Collins said. “We never should have abandoned the wooden racquet.” In 1963, the French tennis player and fashion icon René Lacoste created the first successful all-metal racquet. Sold in the United States as the Wilson T-2000, it had a hollow steel frame and strings suspended from a wire wrapped around the edges. The T-2000 was sturdier and potentially more powerful than wood, but also harder to control. The racquet had an unusually small sweet spot, so you had to hit flat, well-centered shots—a style that happened to suit Jimmy Connors, who went on to win a string of titles with it. “I had a T-2000 and I thought, This is wonderful,” Collins said. “I didn’t see what was happening soon enough.”
The T-2000 triggered an arms race in tennis. Manufacturers, in search of lighter, stiffer, harder-hitting racquets, turned first to aluminum, then to graphite, then to braided composites of graphite, ceramic, fibreglass, Kevlar, titanium, boron, and other exotic materials. String manufacturers developed complex polymers and multifilaments like Zyex and synthetic gut. By deepening and tapering the frame, racquet designers managed to stiffen it without adding weight. By expanding the racquet’s head, they found, they could increase the sweet spot, so that players could hit the ball with much greater pace and spin. “If you were on the court with Nadal, you would go blind or wacky trying to read it,” Collins said. “We need a disarmament conference.”
The International Tennis Federation has been the guardian of the game’s rules and standards since 1913. Its science and technical department, in London, looks like a Victorian inventor’s lab, full of strange gizmos and exploding devices. Tennis balls are shot out of bazookas, compressed by pistons, blasted in a wind tunnel, and smashed by robotically wielded racquets. One machine uses lasers to track a ball’s pace and trajectory when bounced off various playing surfaces. Another uses a mechanical limb, wearing a sneaker, to measure “shoe-surface” interactions. “We try to anticipate changes that would fundamentally alter the game,” I was told by Stuart Miller, the lab’s Dr. Frankenstein, as one of his colleagues called him. By and large, though, the I.T.F. is content to observe and quantify. While Major League Baseball has insisted on wooden bats—relegating aluminum to college, high school, and Little League—the I.T.F. has never imposed restrictions on racquet materials. The few innovations it has banned have been fairly outlandish: thickly woven “spaghetti strings,” fluid-filled racquets, and clownishly oversized ones.
To Collins, this reluctance is proof that the manufacturers run the game. But Miller says that he’s just letting it evolve: the more powerful the equipment, the stronger a player must become in order to master it. The process isn’t always pretty. In the early nineties, matches on grass often degenerated into serving duels; on clay, they turned into endless baseline rallies, with players neither willing to come to the net nor able to strike a winner. The low point was probably the 1994 Wimbledon final between Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic. That match, which Sampras won in straight sets, featured almost no rallies of more than five shots, and more than eighty-five points won by serves alone. (The year before, Sampras had become the first player to be documented serving more than a thousand aces in a year.) By then, even other players were getting bored. “I never stayed home to watch Sampras play another big server on TV,” the Bryans’ coach, David Macpherson, told me. “Why would I do that?”
The skills polished by doubles were beginning to seem beside the point. The singles game was all about moving along the baseline; doubles was about moving forward and back. Singles players hit the ball with heavy topspin, looping it well above the net; doubles players hit lower, flatter strokes, harder to volley. Singles players ran about five miles per match; they needed strong lungs and sturdy joints to withstand all those whiplash changes of direction. Doubles players ran about two miles per match; they needed quick-twitch muscles and a fast first step. The difference was visible in their very bodies. The singles draw was increasingly populated by lean, wolfish types: Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Sharapova, Safina, Venus Williams—players with powerful serves and stretchy limbs, ideal for retrieving ground strokes. The doubles side was more of a menagerie—ranging from bulldogs like Leander Paes to the storklike Max Mirnyi. Its players were often dismissed as specialists. In truth, they were the last of the generalists.
When I next saw the Bryans, at the French Open in June, they were trying to recapture their form. They’d begun the year by reaching six finals and three semifinals in ten tournaments, winning four. More recently, though, they’d hit a rough patch. They’d come to Paris after losing their opening matches in Munich and Madrid, and had taken a rare two-week break from the tour and from each other—Bob going to London, Mike back to Florida, with his girlfriend. “It was just good to get apart,” Mike said. “We needed to freshen up mentally.”
The strategy seemed to have worked: the twins looked sharp in practice all week. They loved playing on the red clay of Roland-Garros, with its high, consistent bounce, and didn’t drop a set against their first three opponents. In the quarterfinals, they ran up against a pair of Spaniards who were even happier on clay than they were: Tommy Robredo and Marc Lopez. But they squeaked through in three sets—winning the final tiebreak 7–2—and the semifinal promised to be easier. Their opponents, Wesley Moodie, of South Africa, and Dick Norman, of Belgium, had been playing together only since February. Moodie was ranked eighteenth in doubles, Norman seventy-seventh.
The best doubles teams are often pairings of opposites: lefty and righty, server and returner, aggressor and defender. McEnroe, the nimble net player, was balanced by Fleming, the hulking server. Woodbridge, the firebrand, found his match in Woodforde, the cooler mind. In the early seventies, the Romanian Ion Tiriac was known as a brilliant tactician whose strokes were merely serviceable—he called himself “the greatest player in the world who can’t play.” His partner and countryman Ilie Nastase had a genius for shot-making but a tendency to come unhinged. “His brain is like a birdcage with a little bird scampering around inside,” Tiriac reportedly said. Together, they were hard to beat.
Moodie and Norman weren’t of that calibre, but their partnership followed the same pattern. Norman was left-handed, Moodie right-handed. Norman was a shaggy six-foot-eight blond—the third-tallest player on the tour as well as the oldest, at thirty-eight. He had a strong serve and deep ground strokes, but little else; until a year ago, he’d played singles. Moodie was eight years younger but an experienced doubles player. Skinny and quick, with long, bony arms and twitchy reflexes, he could be a suffocating presence at the net. “I told someone before the tournament that we were either going to lose in the first round or we’ll win,” he later said. “Well, we won the first round.”
On the afternoon of the match, a pale, gauzy sky hung over the city, threatening rain. Outside the stadium, a statue of the French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen greeted the crowd. Known as La Divine in the twenties, when she used to sip brandy between sets, Lenglen had been sculpted in mid-leap, knee skirt flying, brandishing a wooden racquet as if it were a carpet beater. Like her, Roland-Garros couldn’t quite decide whether to revel in tradition, as Wimbledon had, or to flaunt its modernity, as the U.S. Open did. It was the only grand slam played on clay, but had surrounded its courts with brutalist concrete bleachers. Along the main concourse, the concession stands bore the slogan “So French, So Roland-Garros”—a claim somewhat less convincing for being written in English.
The Bryans played almost flawlessly to start the set. Bob won every point on his serve; Mike lost two. In the second game, with Norman serving at 30–40, Mike made two tough volleys in a row, digging the balls out from around his ankles. When the second reply came back short and high, Bob yelled “Mine!” and lunged forward, slamming it down the middle with a grunt. Two games later, they broke Moodie as well.
The twins were playing “very old-school stuff,” David Macpherson said, both rushing the net at the first opportunity. The only twist was their choice of positions. Teams with a lefty and a righty usually put each player on his dominant side, so that both can reach wide with their forehands. Moodie and Norman did this, as did McEnroe and Fleming, Woodforde and Woodbridge, and Navratilova and Pam Shriver. The Bryans were a rare exception. Bob, the lefty, played to his right, so that both their forehands covered the middle. This made them more vulnerable to balls hit wide, but allowed them to poach more volleys. Just as important, on the crucial break points, their opponents had to serve to Mike, in the ad court, and he had the better return.
|Doubles||Grand Slam tournaments||2||2||4||0.50|
|ATP Masters 1000*||0||3||3||0.00|
|ATP Tour 500||7||6||13||0.54|
|ATP Tour 250||11||10||21||0.52|
|Mixed Doubles||Grand Slam tournaments||3||1||4||0.75|
|1) WR=winning rate|
2) * formerly known as "ATP Masters Series" (2004–2008).
Jamie Murray is a professional tennis player who is the current British number one doubles player. He has reached eight grand slam finals in total: (4 Doubles, 4 Mixed), he has won the mixed doubles at the 2007 Wimbledon Championships, 2017 Wimbledon Championships and 2017 US Open, and the men's doubles at the 2016 Australian Open and 2016 US Open, and has finished as runner-up in the men's doubles tournament at the 2015 Wimbledon Championships and 2015 US Open and in mixed doubles at the 2008 US Open. Murray has been ranked as high as World No. 1 in the ATP doubles rankings, and was the first Britain to be ranked as world number one since the introduction of computerised world rankings in the 1970s. He is currently ranked at world No. 5.
Murray made his professional tennis debut on the main tour in Nottingham Open in 2006. So far in his career, Murray has won a total of 20 doubles titles and 3 mixed doubles titles.
Below is a list of career achievements and titles won by Jamie Murray.
Grand Slam tournament finals
Doubles: 4 (2 titles, 2 runner-ups)
Mixed doubles: 4 (3 titles, 1 runner-up)
Masters 1000 finals
Doubles: 3 (3 runner-ups)
Team competitions finals
Davis Cup: 1 (1 title)
ATP World Tour
Doubles: 41 (20 titles, 21 runner-ups)
|Loss||0–1||000000002006-07-01-0000Jul 2006||Los Angeles Open, United States||International||Hard||Eric Butorac||Bob Bryan|
|Loss||0–2||000000002006-10-01-0000Oct 2006||Thailand Open, Thailand||International||Hard (i)||Andy Murray||Jonathan Erlich|
|2–6, 6–2, [4–10]|
|Win||1–2||000000002007-02-01-0000Feb 2007||Pacific Coast Championships, United States||International||Hard (i)||Eric Butorac||Chris Haggard|
|Win||2–2||000000002007-02-01-0000Feb 2007||U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships, United States||Intl. Gold||Hard (i)||Eric Butorac||Jürgen Melzer|
|Win||3–2||000000002007-06-01-0000Jun 2007||Nottingham Open, United Kingdom||International||Grass||Eric Butorac||Joshua Goodall|
|4–6, 6–3, [10–5]|
|Win||4–2||000000002008-02-01-0000Feb 2008||Delray Beach Open, United States||International||Hard||Max Mirnyi|| Bob Bryan|
|6–4, 3–6, [10–6]|
|Loss||4–3||000000002008-04-01-0000Apr 2008||Estoril Open, Portugal||International||Clay||Kevin Ullyett||Jeff Coetzee|
|2–6, 6–4, [8–10]|
|Loss||4–4||000000002008-06-01-0000Jun 2008||Nottingham Open, United Kingdom||International||Grass||Jeff Coetzee||Bruno Soares|
|Win||5–4||000000002010-11-01-0000Nov 2010||Valencia Open, Spain||500 Series||Hard (i)||Andy Murray||Mahesh Bhupathi|
|7–6(10–8), 5–7, [10–7]|
|Win||6–4||000000002011-09-01-0000Sep 2011||Open de Moselle, France||250 Series||Hard (i)||André Sá||Lukáš Dlouhý|
|Win||7–4||000000002011-10-01-0000Oct 2011||Japan Open, Japan||500 Series||Hard||Andy Murray||František Čermák|
|Loss||7–5||000000002012-02-01-0000Feb 2012||Open Sud de France, France||250 Series||Hard (i)||Paul Hanley||Nicolas Mahut|
|Win||8–5||000000002013-04-01-0000Apr 2013||U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships, United States||250 Series||Clay||John Peers|| Bob Bryan|
|1–6, 7–6(7–3), [12–10]|
|Win||9–5||000000002013-07-01-0000Jul 2013||Swiss Open, Switzerland||250 Series||Clay||John Peers||Pablo Andújar|
|Win||10–5||000000002013-09-01-0000Sep 2013||Thailand Open, Thailand||250 Series||Hard (i)||John Peers||Tomasz Bednarek|
|6–3, 3–6, [10–6]|
|Loss||10–6||000000002013-10-01-0000Oct 2013||Japan Open, Japan||500 Series||Hard||John Peers||Rohan Bopanna|
|Win||11–6||000000002014-05-01-0000May 2014||Bavarian International Tennis Championships, Germany||250 Series||Clay||John Peers||Colin Fleming|
|Loss||11–7||000000002014-06-01-0000Jun 2014||Queen's Club Championships, United Kingdom||250 Series||Grass||John Peers||Alexander Peya|
|6–4, 6–7(4–7), [4–10]|
|Loss||11–8||000000002014-08-01-0000Aug 2014||Winston-Salem Open, United States||250 Series||Hard||John Peers||Juan Sebastián Cabal|
|Loss||11–9||000000002014-09-01-0000Sep 2014||Malaysian Open, Malaysia||250 Series||Hard (i)||John Peers||Marcin Matkowski|
|6–3, 6–7(5–7), [5–10]|
|Win||12–9||000000002015-01-01-0000Jan 2015||Brisbane International, Australia||250 Series||Hard||John Peers||Alexandr Dolgopolov|
|Loss||12–10||000000002015-02-01-0000Feb 2015||Rotterdam Open, Netherlands||500 Series||Hard (i)||John Peers||Jean-Julien Rojer|
|6–3, 3–6, [8–10]|
|Loss||12–11||000000002015-04-01-0000Apr 2015||Barcelona Open, Spain||500 Series||Clay||John Peers||Marin Draganja|
|3–6, 7–6(8–6), [9–11]|
|Loss||12–12||000000002015-07-01-0000Jul 2015||Wimbledon, United Kingdom||Grand Slam||Grass||John Peers|| Jean-Julien Rojer|
|6–7(5–7), 4–6, 4–6|
|Win||13–12||000000002015-08-01-0000Aug 2015||German Open, Germany||500 Series||Clay||John Peers|| Juan Sebastián Cabal|