Born and raised in California but living life apart from his equally accomplished sibling, Bob Bryan is the left-handed half of the world famous tennis doubles champion Bryan Brothers. He sat down at the Miami Open and talked tennis, family and Key Biscayne.
The 37-year-old winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, who not only plays tennis with but lived with his identical twin brother, Mike, until just a few years ago, finished a lively practice session on the familiar grounds of Crandon Park, and said there is something simply special about being in South Florida.
“South Florida and Southern Cal are the two meccas of tennis in the U.S. I grew up in Southern California, but we’ve been coming to Key Biscayne since we were 11 years old,” Bryan said with the cool, collected demeanor of a man comfortable on both coasts.
Wearing a white sponsored tennis cap and sunglasses, Bryan seems relaxed and happy sitting on a sofa in private area adjacent to Stadium Court. The world traveler, whose passport could make a stamp collector blush, remains grounded, harkening back to his early days when he and his brother laid the foundation for doubles dominance by honing their craft in the confines they still visit today.
“We were on the U.S. National Team, and this is where it was based – right here on Key Biscayne at Crandon Park, so I know these courts,” he said as he stretched out on a sofa, adding the sentimental feelings go beyond the Miami Open and tennis, extending to the personal relationships he developed along the way.
“We’ve got great friends out here on the island,” Bryan said of the relationships he and Mike forged years ago. “Jay Berger, who was our national coach, lived out here for so many years, and Sean Wolfington, who is one of my good buddies, lives over there by the Ritz, so I’m always shooting down here even when the tournament is not going on.”
Berger, the former ATP No. 7 player in the world who made an even bigger impact on the game coaching kids from juniors to collegiate at the University of Miami and is the current head of USTA men’s program, was not just a mentor for the Bryan Brothers, but a friend who made them feel welcome on the island enclave.
“I’ve spent a lot of time since they were young and always in a supportive role with them,” Berger said. “I had good time with them, they were always with me and my family. We went to restaurants and sandwich places, we went fishing, we went to the yacht club. They came out here as little kids in camps.”
Berger has watched his young protégés mature into men he is proud to say others should try to imitate.
“They are the two most professional tennis players I’ve been around, and that includes the likes of Federer and Djokovic. They are in that class,” Berger said, adding that the brothers’ parents did a great job raising their sons to be good people. “They are players who other players need to emulate as human beings and as professionals.”
The career resume of Bob and his brother Mike is the stuff of legend.
The most successful duo of all-time, the twins have won two Olympic medals, held the No. 1 doubles ranking for a record 438 weeks, and won more games, matches, tournaments and Grand Slams than any tandem in history.
Their success and reputation as two of the nicest people in all of tennis has made them wildly popular even among the most casual of fans.
While waiting in line to watch Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco play a doubles match against Simmone Bollelli and Andreas Steppi at the Miami Open, Richard Reithner, a native of Santa Monica, California, said the Bryan Brothers couldn’t be better.
“They are obviously smoking hot players who show up on TV, and they’re funny and they’re great, it’s a great way for Americans to present themselves to the world. They’re happy, they’re talented, they’re successful – and that’s it, what more could you want.”
With Mike playing right-handed and Bob playing left, the mirror twins are the perfect compliment to each other on and off the court.
Famously close, the twins lived together until 2010, when Bob met and married his wife Michelle, with whom he now has three children – Micaela, Bobby Jr., and Richie. Bob moved across the country to Sunny Isles Beach, and the twins began the process of living on their own.
“My wife’s family is Cuban and they’re all born in Cuba and migrated out here, and she went to Nova (Southeastern University), her sister went to Barry (University), her dad was a doctor. Everybody lives on same street right there on Collins.”
The marriage and the move separated the dynamic duo for the first time in their lives, a situation Bob admits was a tough adjustment to make and one they still manage mentally, physically and emotionally.
“It’s tough,” Bob said, pausing as though deciding how much to share. “I think as twins you always want to be next to your brother or your sister, and we share so many experiences together and we share all the same tastes and likes, it’s just natural to want to want to share experiences with your twin brother, so we’re always calling each other.
Mike, who married Lucille Williams in 2012, still lives in California despite Bob’s not-so-subtle suggestions that his womb-mate join him in the Sunshine State.
“He’s looked at places in South Florida,” Bob said, explaining the situation. “But his wife is a big horseback rider who likes to do it out in Southern Cal.
Bob smiled and laughed before adding that South Florida has a strong horseback riding community as well.
“We’re always trying to get Mike to move here. He likes it, but his wife likes riding out there. We try to tell them we have a great horse community in South Florida too.”
But the separation may be more than emotional. Bob admits it has had an impact on their play and continues to make some things more difficult.
“I think a couple times at the beginning of the year [it had an impact] because in the off season we’re so used to training together, and now we’re on the opposite coasts. So, we’ve had to adjust that way, so sometimes scrambling to find someone to practice with and I know he’s the same. It’s not as easy as rolling out of bed and tapping the guy on the shoulder and saying let’s go practice.”
Lisa Metzger is an amateur doubles player from New Jersey who completely understands why the Bryan Brothers need to keep their connection at a high level.
“I think the key with doubles play is having internal instinct externally, so I know what’s happening inside of you every minute,” Metzger explained in excellent detail. “I don’t need to turn; I don’t need to look. I know where you’re going even if you don’t know where you’re going…and I think they do that.”
With a win at this year’s Miami Open, the Bryans would set the record for most wins at the Crandon Park tournament, another milestone the twins could add to their mindboggling list of accomplishments.
But at some point, the twins will stop playing on the biggest stages on the highest levels and will have to decide what they will do together or separately once they retire from competition. It’s a thought that Bob hasn’t completely developed, but he has an idea.
“I want to do something in tennis for sure; maybe coach,” he said. “I don’t know, but I definitely want to remain in tennis.”