If you spend all your time with someone, including eating, sleeping, working out, and competing, it’s not surprising that you would form a strong bond, especially if you have the same genetic makeup.
Bob and Mike Bryan’s success on the tennis court was fueled by their unique connection as twins. This bond only intensified as they spent 23 years traveling the world together and winning numerous titles.
In August 2020, the duo known as the Bryan brothers in the tennis world and beyond, officially retired from the sport. They hold the record for the most successful doubles team in history, with 16 grand slam titles, 119 tour-level titles, and 438 weeks at world No. 1.
Their collaboration reached its height in 2012 and 2013, during which they were virtually unbeatable, securing the Olympic gold medal and winning all four major events within a year.
“When we were in the zone and feeling confident, the synchronicity of our movements was almost unsettling. Our feet were in perfect harmony and we instinctively knew where to position ourselves,” Mike shares with CNN Sport. “It was like a powerful locomotive once we found our rhythm.”
This year’s French Open marks 20 since the identical twins from California captured their first grand slam title, though they had little sense at the time of the huge success that would follow.
Instead, their goal was to earn a spot on the USA’s Davis Cup team by impressing captain Patrick McEnroe at Roland Garros, and they succeeded in doing so.
The brothers made quick and merciless progress in the French Open doubles tournament, easily defeating their opponents in straight sets. However, they almost lost their chance at the title due to nerves before the final match.
Mike, while reminiscing about the 2003 French Open, expressed that at the time, they believed it was a singular opportunity and were unsure if they would have another chance. He also mentioned that they couldn’t stop thinking about it and it became a constant thought in their minds.
Fueled by adrenaline, they secured the final 16 points of their match against Paul Haarhuis and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, ultimately achieving a 7-6 6-3 win and setting the stage for their future success.
Bob recalled that they had a night of partying and then headed straight from the club to a 9 a.m. photo shoot at the Arc de Triomphe. However, due to their exhaustion, the photos taken were not usable. This could be the reason why those photos have never been seen before.
Although some tennis players may alternate between singles and doubles, the Bryan brothers have dedicated their entire careers to playing doubles and have remained loyal to each other.
In 2018, Bob, the older twin by a few minutes, had hip surgery. As a result, Mike found a new partner and together they won both Wimbledon and the US Open with American player Jack Sock.
Mike recalls, “We spent each day playing and living together, constantly by each other’s side. This strong bond translated onto the court, as we were always in sync and functioning as one unit.”
“We were aware that our bond would never be broken. This assurance also gave us confidence; we knew we would always stand by each other and not seek other companions.”
Bob concurs that the idea of being single was never a consideration for the brothers.
“I have always found more pleasure in winning a doubles match, perhaps because of our twin connection,” he shares with CNN Sport. “Our sponsors even included bonuses in our contracts specifically for doubles – they encouraged us to focus on that aspect. It just came more naturally to us.”
Bob is left-handed and Mike is right-handed, making them a well-suited duo on the tennis court. However, unlike typical left-right doubles teams, they preferred to play on the backhand side when returning serves. They made this change before the 2003 French Open.
Throughout their professional lives, they were almost always together and even shared a bank account. Although there were instances of tension, particularly during practice when they pushed each other to excel.
Mike recalls that during their practices, they always approached it as if it were a championship game. He also mentioned that Bob would push him to improve if he missed a few shots, and vice versa. Despite some intense moments and physical confrontations during their practices, it ultimately led to a high level of quality.
“We typically only had one practice per day because we worked extremely hard. Our practices would last a maximum of 90 minutes, and we wouldn’t even take breaks to drink water. We only used a few balls and focused on drilling after drilling.”
“At the end, we were drenched in sweat. We trained as if it were a major final and he made sure I didn’t slack off.”
Despite their intense rivalry, the brothers never forgot their responsibilities as performers. The “chest bump,” also known as the “Bryan bump” during their time at college according to The Stanford Daily, became their signature celebration for winning a competition or scoring a significant point.
Drawing from the enthusiasm of the spectators, the players engaged in a display of athleticism through running, jumping, and colliding their bodies, a performance inspired by Luke and Murphy Jensen, another American doubles team.
The Jensen brothers coincidentally achieved their only grand slam victory at the 1993 French Open, a decade before the Bryans secured their first win.
Bob explains that the Bryans’ chest bump originated at Stanford and was later incorporated into their tour.
In the beginning years, the tour did not welcome it as the experienced players saw it as a sign of disrespect towards them.
The thrill of being there and the satisfaction of being able to travel the world as professionals made us extremely happy. Eventually, our passion was recognized and it became our trademark.
After retiring before the 2020 US Open, the siblings now lead a more relaxed lifestyle. Instead of constantly traveling for 40 weeks a year for tournaments, they have more opportunities to spend time with loved ones and indulge in their mutual interest in music.
Bob is a keyboardist, Mike is a guitarist and drummer. They have played at bars, clubs and tennis tournaments as members of the Bryan Brothers Band.
Bob mentioned that their music rooms have grown in size and now his children also play, giving him the opportunity to jam with them.
This does not mean that tennis is no longer a part of their lives. They continue to participate in legends matches at major tournaments, and occasionally take part in exhibition tournaments. Bob has also been chosen as the USA’s Davis Cup captain for this year’s competition.
However, the days of fierce competition, intense training, and celebratory chest bumps are now over for them.
“After retiring, restarting can be difficult,” Bob states.
“We had always intended to continue playing as long as we were mentally and physically capable, so when we eventually retired, we had no feelings of regret.”
“We both believe that we have no unfulfilled aspirations that we wish we had achieved during the tour. I believe we felt that we gave our all to our careers.”