This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of New York Tennis Magazine. Click Here to read the digital edition
Towards the end of 2019, Bob and Mike Bryan announced to the tennis world that 2020 would be the duo’s last season playing professional tennis. The Americans, owners of 16 Grand Slam titles, said that this year’s US Open would be their final tournament.
“Mentally, physically, we wanted to get together, reflect on our career, and then make a big decision,” said Mike Bryan during an appearance on the Tennis Channel with twin brother Bob. “We wanted to see if we wanted to keep going, and we decided that 2020 at the Open, we’re going to shut it down. So, one more season, and we’re excited for it.”
The reveal set the stage for what was supposed to be a farewell tour of sorts, where the most successful doubles pairing in the sport’s history could make stops across the world and allow tennis fans to witness their greatness one more time.
“We are currently extremely motivated and excited going into our last season,”
Mike Bryan added in an ATP World Tour press release.
“We will enjoy and appreciate each moment we have while saying our goodbyes and giving thanks to the fans who have given us so much joy.”
Part of that final ride includes a nearly one-month stretch in mid-summer playing for the Las Vegas Rollers of World TeamTennis. The whole season will be played at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where the Rollers will play multiple matches against the New York Empire.
“This season for Las Vegas will be amazing with the Bryan Brothers and Sam Querrey signing on for the entire World TeamTennis season,” said World TeamTennis CEO Carlos Silva when the signings were made. “For years, the Bryans have thrilled tennis fans with their energetic and exciting brand of doubles. We are thrilled that in their farewell season they value taking part in the premier team-tennis format once again.”
Because of the global pandemic, the Bryan Brothers have been in a state of limbo as they wait to see what unfolds as the summer progresses.
“We haven’t gotten that far. We are just watching and waiting,” said Mike when asked if the current situation has changed anything in their retirement plans. “If the whole summer was played, that might be enough to kind of wet our whistle and say our goodbyes to the American fans, and if we played the US Open, I think we’d prefer to go out that way. But if we don’t get any last matches or tournaments this year...I think the discussion [to play another year] will be on the table. We just have to see how it shakes out.”
For the most dominant duo that the sport has ever seen, the type of farewell tour we have seen legends of other sports get in recent years only seems fitting, and being able to say goodbye to the American fans is the ultimate goal for the Bryans in their final season.
“Without a vaccine, I see it as a stretch they’ll be bringing large crowds of people together to watch sports for a while,” said Bob Bryan. “The idea of playing behind closed doors, for younger players that might make sense. But for us, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not the reason we signed on to play these last tournaments. It’s not about playing the matches, it’s about enjoying the atmosphere one last time and that isn’t going to be there.”
The US Open will go on as scheduled, but will do so without fans or spectators. The USTA has announced an array of safety measures and protocols to ensure the event can be properly played.
Regardless of what the Bryans decide to do, the duo has earned the right go to out in whatever way they please. Their 16 majors together make up a percentage of their 119 doubles titles on the ATP tour in total, with those championships scattered across 34 cities throughout the world. They first rose to the world’s top-ranking in September 2003 and have spent 438 total weeks holding that position, including ending 10 seasons in that spot. In all, they have accumulated more than 1,100 wins together. Now into their 40s, this past winter was not the first time that they had pondered the possibility of hanging up their tennis shoes.
Bob underwent hip surgery in the middle of 2018 which forced him to miss the rest of the season. During that time, Mike paired with fellow American Jack Sock and won titles at both Wimbledon and the US Open.
“With all the success Mike was having with Jack in the majors, Bob just handled it all with so much class and was so supportive of Mike in that time,” their longtime coach David MacPherson said last year.
Bob was back on the tour competing much earlier than anyone had expected, returning for the 2019 Australian Open alongside Mike. The pairing didn’t miss a beat and hit the ground running in their resumption of play together and won titles in both Delray Beach and Miami.
In 2020, the Bryans defended their title and won for the sixth time in Delray Beach, marking the 20th straight year that they have won a tour-level title.
“It’s cool. It makes us feel old, but it makes us feel great that we can win and be this consistent over 20 years,” said Mike “It feels like we are unscathed here, we won our last match in the city. We are always going to have pretty awesome memories coming to Delray.”
But the Bryans are more than just statistics and their success on the court. The California-born twins have long been fan favorites on the tour, with their constant energy and enthusiasm while playing and their signature chest bump after victories. The two have also used their platform as successful athletes to make a difference through the Bryan Brothers Foundation. The organization has raised more than $1.2 million to support different children’s charities not only where they are from in Southern California, but also throughout the country. They host various events throughout the year including fundraisers and tennis exhibitions and pro-ams to raise money for worthy causes.
It is that sense of kindness and the willingness to give back that has made them such endearing figures for more than two decades in the world of tennis, and includes grooming the current and future generations of American tennis players.
“They have had historic careers. What they’ve done for doubles is just incredible. “I really have looked up to them. They’ve been so kind to me from the start,” said Ryan Harrison, who recalled a time earlier this year when they were practicing for World TeamTennis Celebrity All-Star Match.
“Bob and I were out there hitting a couple days in San Diego, and Bob was actually out there working with me on different parts of my game and helping me out. That just goes to show you how good of guys they are.”
And it’s with that sort of attitude that the Bryans are looking at the current situation they face. They hold no grudges or bitter feelings about what was supposed to be a fun final season competing on tour.
Instead, they are hopeful there will be tennis this summer and that they’ll still have the ability to say goodbye after the US Open in Queens, and viewing things through a broader lens.
“The pandemic has put a lot of things in perspective and given us a lot of time to reflect and work on relationships and get our life organized,” said Bob. “It’s nice to slow down for a second, take a deep breath and reset. So in my mind and Mike’s mind too, it’s a very positive time for us, and that’s how we’re trying to look at it.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org