The last time I saw Bob and Mike Bryan
play tennis was almost ten years ago at the Pac-10 tennis championships in Ojai, California.
The twins, now 29-years-old and playing doubles for the United States in this weekend's Davis Cup final
against Russia at Memorial Coliseum, were playing for Stanford at the time, and were basically the best college tennis players in the country
. Every match they played was on the most central court, surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of people excited to catch a glimpse
of the soon-to-be pros.
I was a freshman, barely hanging on
to my spot on the U of O's perennial Pac-10-basement-dwelling team. Spectators at my matches were usually limited to opponents' girlfriends and mothers.
It's probably a good thing I didn't have to get on the court with them that weekend, but I was having visions of facing off with them today at the "Adidas Tennis Bash," a Davis Cup promotional event at Irvington Athletic Club that promised, in a press release, the opportunity to play doubles against the number one doubles team in the world.
I dug out some semi-appropriate tennis clothes and recruited another friend from those long-ago tennis days to go and meet our fate. I wanted just one point, one little glimpse of some kind of long-lost glory.
As far as the Davis Cup itself goes, there are some pretty interesting stories
revolving around the matches this weekend. It's the first Davis Cup final held in the United States since 1992, and the U.S. hasn't won since 1995, when they beat Russia (their opponents this weekend) 3-2 in Moscow. Somehow Memorial Coliseum
is the setting for this monumental event, and people are fired up (Tickets for the weekend sold out in under an hour, and are now for sale on eBay and craigslist for enormous amounts).
The tennis should be pretty interesting. On paper, the U.S. looks like the favorite, playing at home with Andy Roddick and James Blake, ranked 6th and 13th in the world, respectively, holding down the singles positions and the nearly unbeatable Bryan brothers playing doubles. It's the exact same lineup
the Americans have used for the last couple years.
The highest ranked Russian player, Nikolay Davydenko (#4 in the world) has been playing the second half of the year under a cloud after becoming involved in a probe into match-fixing
(a British betting parlor suspended betting on a match of his when they saw a very suspicious amount of money being bet on it. Davydenko ended up defaulting the match in question because of injury). He hasn't been playing well, and may not even play this weekend to make room for other players who have had better luck
against Roddick and Blake lately. No. 19 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 35 Dmitry Tursunov, and No. 34 Igor Andreev are the other members of the squad.
For now. There's a bit of mystery
surrounding the Russian team this week. Conspicuously absent from their roster is Marat Safin, a former number one and Davis Cup veteran who has spent much of the last few months injured. But the roster can be changed up until Thursday morning, and it's being reported that Safin's name is on the Russians' rooming list this weekend.
Mike Bryan (who, it turns out, is way nicer and cooler than I ever gave him credit for back in the day) told me this afternoon that they didn't really care who they ended up playing.
"They're all pretty much the same player," he said. "They all have really good ground strokes
, and they can't really volley that well
He also explained something pretty interesting to me about the court at Memorial Coliseum, prepared specially for the weekend. They've been practicing on it the last couple days, and it's very fast
, which is just how they wanted it. Apparently the host team gets to decide what kind of court they want to play on, and the American players and their captain, Patrick McEnroe, decided a very fast court would give Roddick, with his ridiculously big serve and Blake, with his flatter groundstrokes, an advantage against the Russians, who like to stay back and hit big, looping topspin strokes.
So things seem to be favoring the U.S. team, but the Russians are the defending champions and are notoriously tough. It should be fun.
Anyway, back to the event this afternoon. There were probably 200 kids running around the courts playing tennis ball-related games of many kinds. Bob and Mike Bryan came out to huge cheers and put on a short exhibition for the crowd before playing a few points for fun against some kids. A few lucky kids won tickets to the matches this weekend. If the Bash today was any indication, Portland seems to have a pretty serious case of Davis Cup Fever
Mikhail Youzhny from the Russian team was there as well. I tried to ask him about their mystery lineup this weekend:
Not much help there. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
I never got my chance
against the Bryan brothers. I guess it's just as well--I'm not sure why I thought 5 years of not playing tennis and exercising sporadically at best
would get me ready for this moment. I just had a feeling.
Follow our live coverage of the Davis Cup here.