Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Being the Brothers Bryan

Chances are if you're even a casual tennis fan, you know the Bryan Brothers. In a sport that is increasingly becoming more and more devoid of star power, a random set of twins have found a way to become probably the second and third most famous American men in the game (behind John Isner). It is somewhat remarkable considering the relative lack of importance placed on doubles by virtually all tennis fans and the scant (or more precisely almost zero) coverage it gets in the media and on television, that the Bryan Brothers could have achieved any level of stardom but they have. Doubles is generally a bygone sport played mostly by amateurs (although I find it the most entertaining form of tennis), but basically ignored when practiced by professionals at the highest level. Yet still, the Bryan Brothers are stars and a real draw, especially when playing at the US Open.  So this had me wondering...what it is like to be the Bryan Brothers, rock stars of a sport no one cares about, but highly sought after for being its master.

After the Brothers won their third round match over some anonymous doubles team and moved a step closer to their record 100th ATP Tour title, I attended their press conference in the Media Center. Its location was telling of the Bryan's place in the realm of tennis popularity. They were not sent to Media Room One (the massive area in which the stars of the game are brought to meet the world's reporters), but they also weren't placed in Rooms 3-6 (rooms that aren't even really "rooms", but rather are simply cubicles where no more than 2-5 reporters can comfortably sit....they are used for the lower-tier singles winners, all the doubles players and most anyone whose name you don't know).  They were instead placed in Room 2, a small office, with 12 or so reporters, comfortably asking questions in the most non-aggressive manner possible.  I would call it the David Ferrer room...fit for those who are B-level tennis celebrities, and the Bryans fit right in.

Unlike other tennis press conferences in which the match is at least the preliminary focus, the story of the day was not the Bryan's victory per se, as it was rather easy, but the fact that due to scheduling they had played in front of a packed house at Armstrong Stadium. With Novak Djokovic following their match, every seat was taken and the Bryans wowed the crowd with their energy on a court that was for the most part rocking. It is fair to say that it was one of the more energetic non-final Men's Doubles matches in the past ten years. While the crowd factor was the initial inquisition, none of the follow-ups to the Bryans were about the match...as a matter of fact in the ten minute session, there was literally no reference to their play. Instead a series of general inquiries were repeated, some of which I jotted down:

Do you feel that being brothers makes your chemistry on the court stronger?

How does it feel to be the face of doubles in America?  Do you feel more responsibility because of it?

Who were your heroes growing up on the doubles scene?

What do you think you can do to make doubles bigger in America?

Is there more pressure on you now that there are no other American males left in the US Open?

None of the questions had anything to do with the Bryans' on-court talents and in fact, one would have never known that they had just finished a match, had they not been sweating and downing bottles of water. Instead, it was a series of questions by a group of people (myself included...I asked the second one) who knew that the Bryans were a story but didn't know how to make their actual on-court work newsworthy. It was clear that for virtually all who follow them, the Bryan brothers are important people doing a very unimportant thing.  That has to be an odd situation to be in. The questions they are asked are the same every time (there can only be so many times one focuses on what it is like to play with your brother) and the interest is always on the surface. They made reference to doubles teams of the past (specifically the rocking Jensens, who they say they looked up to as they began their career), but we learned zero about them beyond the surface. They are handsome brothers who have chosen to play together and are very good doing it...one of the best teams of all time. And they are performing in an entertaining way that makes them important on the tennis scene. But beyond that, little can be said.

At the end of the festivities, the room was cleared out so that the special reporters could get "one on one" access (I still don't know how one gets this individual access but after eavesdropping on a few of their sessions, it strikes me that they simply ask the same questions but without the comfort of the crowd...maybe I am just bitted as I was denied a one on one with, of all people, Jack Sock who should be begging for some form of notoriety or importance). Before we all were herded out of the room, a reporter said, "Just to be clear guys, you are Bob right and the other one, you are Mike."  I can't remember which one he pointed to, I just remember that he was incorrect. With a smile, Bob said he was Mike and Mike said he was Bob, and everyone had a hearty laugh at the clueless journalist who couldn't tell them a part. But as soon as it was over, I realized I couldn't remember which was which either...maybe Bob was in read and Mike was in blue or maybe it was the other way around. I am not sure. And that sort of symbolizes the Bryan Brothers' status...important enough to interview but yet still individually anonymous enough to not be differentiated.  It is an odd setup for two of the three biggest American male tennis stars in the nation, but one they seem to inhabit as well as possible.