For the second year in a row, the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Doubles Team Ranking came down to the last match of the season, with the Bryans needing to win the title to reclaim the crown they previously held in 2003 and ’05-07. Last year they lost out to Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in a winner-take-all final at the season climax in Shanghai.
The Bryans came into the ATP World Tour Finals with only a slim chance of finishing No. 1 in the 2009 ATP Doubles Team Rankings. They trailed their rivals, Nestor and Zimonjic, by 830 points and had lost their past two matches on the ATP World Tour. The twins were ominously defeated by Mirnyi and Ram in their opening round-robin match, but hit back strongly and played what they later claimed was their best match of the year to clinch the title.
“It means so much,” said Bob Bryan. “It's pretty much what we play for now. That's the goal. Play well in the slams, but the ultimate goal is to finish No. 1. We felt like it was stolen from us last year. Now we kind of crept up on those guys and stole it from them this year. We feel like it's a little bit of a payback.”
“To come full circle, do it in the last tournament, with so much riding on this one match, it's huge,” agreed Mike Bryan. “We're going to be talking about this match for the rest of our lives. There's nothing sweeter than this.”
It is the third time in six appearances that the Americans have won the year-end championships, previously winning back-to-back titles in 2003 (d. Llodra-Santoro) and ’04 (d. Black-Ullyett), when it was held in Houston, Texas.
The Bryans clinched their 56th tour-level title together, the fourth-best tally in the Open Era. Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde are the all-time leaders with 61 titles. The Bryans are now just one trophy behind the teams of Peter Fleming-John McEnroe and Bob Hewitt-Frew McMillan, who both won 57 titles.
“It's in our sights now to catch them.” said Bob Bryan. “To be even considered in the same sentence with the Woodies makes us proud. Those guys are our idols. I assume if we stay healthy, it's going to happen some day. Definitely want to honor those guys. That's the standard of doubles. Those guys were the best players ever. To be mentioned with those two is awesome.”
In a re-match of their round-robin clash Monday, both teams were denied on break point chances in a high-quality first set that was to be decided on a tie-break. Mirnyi and Ram drew first blood to lead 2-0 as Mirnyi angled a backhand cross-court winner past the stranded Bryans. Mike Bryan was quick to level for his team, though, rifling a backhand winner down the middle for 2-2. As the tie-break proceeded with serve, it was the Americans who reached set point first at 6-5 and they converted as a telling backhand return from Mike Bryan forced a volley error.
Both teams continued to serve strongly in the second set and neither was able to garner a break point chance until the eighth game, when Bob Bryan made the breakthrough with a stinging return to Ram’s feet that the Israeli could not return into court. A booming service game from Bob Bryan followed as the twins closed out victory after one hour and 59 minutes.
“It was a tough match,” said Mike Bryan. “I thought they played great. It was twice the match it was in the round robin. We both kind of rose to the occasion the first set. It could have gone either way. They won more points in the first set. I thought we just won the big points. We scraped through it.”
The Bryans closed the 2009 season with a 68-18 match record, highlighted by titles. They opened the season with success at the Medibank International (d. Nestor-Zimonjic) in Sydney before clinching their seventh Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open with victory over Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles. The duo, who also finished runner-up at Wimbledon (l. to Nestor-Zimonjic) and three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, has won six of its seven titles on hard-court this year.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Ram. “To get to the Finals and lose in the final, it's tough. I guess they needed it more, and they showed it in the second set. They were much more energetic. They pushed themselves to No. 1.”
*** Mike 'n Bob will be featured on 60 Minutes sometime this Spring. For the past four months the crews of this great show have been shooting interviews and background of the guys all over the US and even in London this past week. Following their final in the 02 Arena today, Lesley Stahl met them in the tunnel for yet another sit down interview. Lesley and her producers Shachar Baron and Meghan Frank and their staff and film crews have been a delight to work with.