Forget Roger and Serena -- Bryans could make a Slam
Posted: Friday April 27, 2007 12:03PM; Updated: Friday April 27, 2007 12:03PM
The French Open begins in exactly a month, and inevitably, the speculation over the Holy Grail of tennis -- the Grand Slam, where the same player wins all four major championships in the same calendar year -- will heat up.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams will be grilled on the possibility of pulling off the feat. Neither, in my opinion, will do it.
Federer has a little problem named Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard continues to dominate Federer on clay, as evidenced by his routine 6-4, 6-4 victory in the final of Monte Carlo last week. Federer's best chance of winning the French is if Nadal is upset before the final by another clay-court specialist.
Williams, on the other hand, is off to an amazing start and has certainly proved her critics wrong (me included). But while Serena has shown that she is capable of taming the slippery red clay in Paris, I think Justin Henin is more comfortable on clay and will win her third straight French Open title.
There is, however, one likely contender for a '07 Grand Slam. Two, actually: Bob and Mike Bryan. The twin doubles team from Camarillo, Calif., is off to a blistering start, having already won the Australian Open, the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston, the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas and Masters Series events in Miami and Monte Carlo.
The Bryans' only two losses this season came in their first match of the year in Sydney and in the first round at Palm Springs, Calif., when Mike was ill. Amazingly, they've even eclipsed Federer's start this year, leading him 5-2 in the tournament-title department (Federer won the Australian Open and Dubai) and in win-loss records, 26-2 vs. Federer's 18-3.
The No. 1-ranked doubles team also has a streak to match Federer's current mark of seven consecutive Grand Slam finals; they were in seven straight from the '05 Australian Open up until their third-round loss at the '06 U.S. Open.
I spoke to Bob on Thursday during the twins' practice week in Tampa, Fla., and they're definitely inspired by Federer's dominance.
"It's pretty amazing that we're having a better year than Federer so far," said Bob. "We just hope it continues. Roger is a superhero in tennis right now, so we're just going to try and keep up with his pace. We don't want to jinx ourselves talking about the Grand Slam, but we know we're capable of winning all four because we have in the past in different years, but it will take a lot of things going our way and very good luck to accomplish the Slam."
It would truly be an incredible accomplishment due to the minuscule margin by which doubles matches are often decided. On top of that, it would only take one injury or an illness to either Bryan to wipe out their chances.
The brothers' incredible start this year is a direct result of their improvements in their individual games. Bob's backhand return and Mike's serve were always the team weaknesses, but they've worked hard to strengthen those parts of their game and the improvements are noticeable.
"Mike has been returning insane," Bob said. "[He's probably returning] as well as anyone in the world right now and his serve has gotten so much better that it's now a weapon."
The twins are at the peak of their career, and I wouldn't bet against them claiming their place in tennis history in '07. I had the opportunity to practice with them in Hawaii before they left for Australia, and I noticed little things that suggested to me that they've completely mastered the tactics of the doubles game.
Their communication and familiarity with each other's shots and tendencies enable them to intuitively know where the other is on the court at all times. They flow together on the court extremely well and are rarely caught out of position.
That's a recipe for domination, and it's why the Bryans have tennis' best shot at the first Grand Slam in 19 years.
Twelve-year ATP Tour veteran Justin Gimelstob writes for SI.com on alternate Fridays.