Bryans a study in togetherness (cont.)
The twins, meanwhile, dress alike on the court at the behest of their sponsor K Swiss and do little to differentiate themselves off the court. Reflexively, both turn around when one of their names is called. They're seldom seen apart. While there once was a handy distinction, a small mole on Mike's face, Mike had it removed. They have the same social circle. "It's definitely a package deal," says Mardy Fish, a U.S. player and one of the Bryans' best friends on the circuit. "You don't like one more than the other, because they're pretty much the same."
Except that they're not. Just as their tennis games are markedly different, so too are their personalities. Macpherson, their coach, was on the job barely a week when he realized that he would need to treat Mike and Bob not only as a team but also as individuals. "They act differently," Macpherson says, "and they react differently."
Here's Bob on Mike: "He's more the math guy, the organized guy. He watches what he eats. He's gluten-free. He's the fitness trainer, traveling with these health bars and inversion machines. He'll spend 15 grand on this accelerated recovery program, this box with electrodes that helps you stretch or whatever. I'd spend that money on keyboards or a camcorder. He's more sensitive too. If I rip him on the court, his level of play will drop. With me it's the opposite."
Mike on Bob: "He's more creative. With our band, he does more of the songwriting, making the demos, setting up the equipment. He's developing a tennis app for the iPhone. We have one Twitter account, but he does it all. He's the hothead. I squirted him with a water bottle a few weeks ago. He snapped and threw his new iPhone at me. He missed, of course. It shattered in a million pieces. Then he goes over and finds the SIM card and figures out how to restore his contacts. That's Bob in a nutshell."
Yet asked if they ever feel an urge to dial back on the public twindom, they flash each other looks of confusion. How so?
You know, stress your differences a bit more, do things that say, "I'm a twin, but I'm also me."
Still, two blank looks. Finally Bob offers, "Maybe that's more something fraternal twins would think about doing."
Handsome, smart and personable as they are, the Bryans naturally have long track records of dating. Nevertheless, at a time when their friends, such as Fish and Andy Roddick, are "falling one by one" (the Bryans' words), Mike and Bob are unmarried. For many of their girlfriends, the "twin thing" has been insurmountable. As one former girlfriend put it, "It's hard to be in a relationship with someone when, no matter what happens, you know that you're not going to be the most important person in his life."
Chastened by history, the Bryans began putting their cards on the table at the beginning of relationships, giving new girlfriends a "here's the deal" talk. Bob's went something like this: "The travel can beat up this relationship. There will be times we'll see each other only on Skype. And there's the whole twin deal. I doubt it's like anything you've experienced, and it can be pretty intense. Just want you to know what you're getting into."
Since then each of the twins has found an intrepid soul willing to accept the challenge. Mike has been dating Lucille Williams, an event planner from Wales, for more than two years. And since early 2009 Bob has been seeing Michelle Alvarez, a Miami lawyer who once took tennis lessons from Kathy Bryan, the twins' mother. When the two couples are together at the twins' house in Camarillo, an hour north of Los Angeles, they can seem like participants in a reality show. Identical twins, two girlfriends, one kitchen. "In a perfect world, the girls are best friends," says Bob. "But we know that's not realistic and not fair to them."
Careful to stress that this is not a Yoko-breaking-up-the-Beatles situation but rather a natural progression, the Bryans are making plans to live apart for the first time in their lives. They'll keep the Camarillo house as a compound and buy comparably sized, comparably priced houses within a few miles of each other. Still, for brothers who slept on each other's floors when they were assigned different roommates at Stanford and haven't spent more than a few nights apart since birth, it will be a significant change. "It will be weird," says Mike. "But we'll deal with it, you know?" Then he jokingly suggests installing a zip line between the houses.
Bob exhales loudly and braids his fingers nervously. "It's time, I guess."
A few years into their career the Bryans decided they'd be better served having someone other than their father as a coach. Wayne, who had groomed the boys to be both tennis stars and musicians since they were two years old, stopped traveling with them. He follows their matches online or on television -- doing push-ups between points -- and fires off encouraging e-mails, win or lose, that arrive before they've left the court.
The twins survived that change in the family dynamic just fine. But this one, this moving-out business, is different. Says Ganz, the twins expert, who has become friendly with the Bryans, "Most people spend their lives looking for their soulmates. With twins, a lot of times you have your soulmate from birth. Now suddenly you're not going to live with him? Yeah, that could be stressful."
Even with different addresses, the Bryans will still spend the bulk of their time together. When they're not practicing and playing tennis, they're practicing and playing music. They are the principals in the Bryan Bros Band, and despite all the athletes who cross over into music -- often code for losing vast sums of money producing a friend's album -- this is no vanity project. Bob, who's been playing piano for 30 years, plays keyboard in the band. Mike plays drums and guitar. Sufficiently modest to recognize their limitations as vocalists, they recruited a lead singer, David Baron, whose music they discovered on his website.
Promoting the band's current album, Let It Rip, the Bryans played the Viper Room in Hollywood in February, and they try to perform at most ATP tour stops. They have jammed at Dave Matthews's recording studio in rural Virginia, and they performed with Counting Crows onstage before 30,000 fans (in return for procuring Wimbledon tickets for the band). "There are so many talented musicians out there that we know that as a band, we're playing Challengers [the tennis equivalent of the minor leagues]," says Mike. "But we have a great time with it."
The same harmony and anticipation that characterizes their tennis is evident when they play music. Performing in front of a few hundred fans at the Delray venue, the Bryans ripped through 20 or so rock songs -- some original, some covers -- changing keys and improvising deftly without exchanging so much as a nod. "I feel like we keep getting better," says Bob, "and I can definitely see us doing this full time when we're done with tennis."
That, though, could be a while. "We're playing the best ball of our lives," both Bryans contend. And so long as they're closing in on records, motivation isn't hard to come by. While 32 is downright ancient in singles, it's scarcely middle-aged in doubles, in which players cover only half the court. "We're planning to play a bunch more years," says Mike. "Whether it's winning at the Olympics [they took bronze in Beijing] or winning more majors or Davis Cup matches, there's a bunch more we want to accomplish."
Doubles is perceived as a lost art, but the reality is more complex. Among recreational players, doubles is more popular than singles. Purists who mourn the passing of serve-and-volley tennis and clever angles can still get their fill by watching doubles. But doubles is caught in a vicious circle: Until the big stars play it in the big events, doubles will be a sideshow. (At the Australian Open, ESPN devoted less than 5% of its coverage to doubles.) As long as doubles is a sideshow, however, the big stars won't play it in the big events. "Let's face it, the singles players don't need the money," says McEnroe, "and with just a bunch of specialists playing, doubles will be on life support."
In part because of their unusual backstory, the Bryans do fine. They have a number of corporate sponsors and will make as much in prize money -- $250,965 apiece as of April 12 -- as any singles player outside the top 10. But after them? Put it this way: If you can tell, say, Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic from the Czech Republic's Lukas Dlouhy (both top doubles players), you're in a small minority. Without the Bryans, one wonders about the fate of this subsport. "We definitely feel a responsibility to keep doubles going," says Mike. "Some of that is being a good [soldier], but honestly, some of that is selfish. We want our records to mean something. If doubles goes away, it takes away from our accomplishments."
If they are the standard-bearers for doubles, they are also the standard-bearers for doubles -- twins, that is. Thanks mostly to fertility drugs, the number of twins born in the U.S. has increased dramatically of late. Roughly 3.2 births out of 100 are multiples, more than twice the rate in 1978, when the Bryans were born. (The rate of identical twins has remained relatively steady at four per 1,000 births.) The Bryans have emerged as models for this growing population. Their practice sessions are often watched by groups of twins and even triplets, and the Bryans are happy to accommodate photo requests and questions, trying to explain a relationship that makes a man in his early 30s smack his brother in public and then recoil at the thought of living under a separate roof from him.
In Delray, as Bob was leaving the court, a sunburned man approached and said his wife was pregnant with twin boys. Any advice? the man asked.
Bob stopped, looked him in the eye and smiled. "I'd say it could be a wild ride for you," he replied. "And your kids, they're lucky as hell."