Sports

Bryans are the 'Bash Brothers' of pro tennis

Former Stanford All-Americans made history on The Farm and now are among the world's best doubles partners

It's a shame when a good nickname gets overused. A couple of baseball teammates were dubbed "The Bash Brothers" in the late 80s and early 90s for their propensity for hitting home runs.

Bob Bryan and his identical twin brother Michael fit the nickname much better. Their case for claiming the "Bash Brothers" is clear.

The Stanford men's tennis products, who are actually brothers, are known for their hitting and their productivity in Grand Slam events.

The most compelling case, though, is their trademark "belly bashing," a unique form of showing delight and celebrating success.

These modern-day "Bash Brothers" have never been associated with things on the dark side of their sport, and they've won far more titles than those other guys.

Even before one of those other Bash Brothers made history in the summer of 1998, the Bryan's were in the midst of perhaps the greatest men's tennis season at Stanford.

"We always reminisce that those were probably the two most fun years we ever had in practice," Bob Bryan said in a telephone interview last weekend. "No one had an individual goal. We worked as a team every day. Coach (Dick) Gould gets a lot of credit for keeping us together."

Bob Bryan beat teammate Paul Goldstein for the NCAA singles title, and joined Michael to win the doubles title. That's not entirely what made that year so special though.

Imagine practicing with and against the top college players of the day, every day for a season.

"We would kick the pants off each other in practice," said Goldstein, who lives in San Francisco and works in Sunnyvale. "Many of our dual matches were like a day off. We felt every day was special. We felt the vibe and rode the wave to the end."

The Bryans were reluctant to leave The Farm after their sophomore season and two NCAA team titles, but they're always happy for a chance to visit.

"Mike and I never thought about turning pro early," Bob said. "We loved our time there and it never crossed our minds until a couple of weeks after the NCAAs when our parents told us how many people and agents were calling. Coach Gould

called us into his office and said, 'guys, I'd

love for you to stay but the best thing for you guys is to go.' When he said that, we had to think about it."

Bob Bryan and Michael Bryan have scheduled a full week of fun and excitement in the Bay Area this week as part of their trip to the SAP Open, which continues through Sunday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. They'll be playing a little tennis, too.

The Bryan brothers have made doubles competition worth watching again. Crowd favorites wherever they travel, their enthusiasm on the court is contagious and flows freely through the stands.

"We've been playing professionally 10 years and we still don't feel like it's a job," Bob said. "We'd rather win the tournament then get the check. Playing for money is such a small part of it. We've always wanted to help make the game more popular. Tennis is not just a sport, it's entertainment. We work hard but doubles is fun for us."

The Bryans were named the ATP Tour Doubles Team of the Month after winning the title at the Australian Open, their seventh Grand Slam title, and the 51st of their careers.

They played their first match in San Jose on Tuesday night against another set of identical twins in Sanchi and Sonchat Ratiwatana of Thailand, the first such meeting in ATP history.

Stanford grads Scott Lipsky and David Martin were also in the main doubles draw, but dropped a 6-4, 7-5 match to Eric Butorac and Ashley Fisher on Wednesday.

The Bryans already know they'll be spending time with Gould and (current head coach) John Whitlinger, their former coaches at Stanford, along with several former teammates, including Goldstein, who recently retired from the Tour after a glorious career, which included a record-setting 30 career titles (since broken by Julie Ditty, but Goldstein is still the men's all-time leader) on the USTA pro circuit, prompting the nickname "Crash Davis" and inspiring a special edition "Paul Goldstein Bobble Head." the brainchild of USTA director Tim Curry.

"Paul was almost an idol to a lot of junior players," Bob said. "He's one of the big reasons we went to Stanford. We looked up to him. He was a great leader and we learned a lot from him."

"We love coming to the Bay Area and seeing coach Gould and coach Whit," Bob said. "We haven't been on campus for a while so we're going to see what kinds of changes have been made. We're also heading into the City to catch up with friends."

The Bryans, who've ended four of the past five years as the top doubles teams in the world, are once again atop the ATP doubles race. They've won all 10 matches (and two titles, adding Sydney prior to the Open) played this year and will be looking to extend that streak in front of a supportive home crowd.

"We just put one foot in front of the other and hopefully it adds up to some amazing stuff," Bob said. "We feel lucky. We see the trophy case full and we're proud of what we've done. Winning keeps you going. You want that feeling over and over again."

The Bryans joined a rare group of men's tennis players with their 2-6, 7-5, 6-0 victory over Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles in the Australian Open doubles championship.

It was not only won their third Australian Open title, but it meant joining a small group of doubles teams with their seventh Grand Slam title of the Open era. Only the legendary duo of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde has more, with 11.

"They are great guys, as genuine a two guys you'll ever meet," Goldstein said. "They are terrific for the game. You could start to see it when they were sophomores. Bob's serving game was getting good. I wouldn't say I thought they would have this much success but I'm not shocked by it."

Goldstein said he has too much respect for Stanford's tradition to ever call the 1998 team the best ever but he will acknowledge it as the best season ever.

"We lost three points all year," Goldstein said. "Bob lost one and he later avenged that. Alex Kim, he was a freshman then and playing No. 6 singles, also lost once. We also lost a doubles point."

Kim went on to win the NCAA singles title in 2000, after he lost in the Pac-10 championship match to teammate Ryan Wolters, who was one of 1998's top four players who rotated at the top of the ladder. Geoff Abrams played No. 5 singles.

All six on the singles ladder later played professionally. Kim was ranked as high as 106th. Abrams is back at Stanford, as an intern at the Stanford Hospital.

"It was pretty ingenious for the coaches to give us all an even number of matches at No. 1," Bob Bryan said. "That gave us all a chance to play in the NCAAs and kept us sharp."

Goldstein credits Whitlinger, who succeeded Gould as head coach at Stanford, for formulating the plan to share the singles ladder.

"We were on a Southwest flight coming home from the ITA Indoor Team championships and Whit started writing on his napkin," Goldstein said. "He scheduled out the rest of the season to make sure we all played the same amount at No. 1, 2, 3 and 4. If you played 3 or 4 singles, you'd play No. 1 doubles. He wrote that on a napkin and it lasted the whole season until the NCAAs, when you had to hand in one lineup."

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