By Vito Ellison
(March 4, 2014) NEW YORK – The Bryan Brothers drew an error on the opening point of their match against John and Patrick McEnroe last night. After that came a volley winner from Bob, a smash off Mike’s racquet and ultimately a hold at love. The terse opening game was punctuated by a surly one-way Bryan chest bump and a glare across the net from the younger duo that would’ve made Victoria Azarenka drop her headphones. The teams were at Madison Square Garden to participate in the seventh annual New York exhibition commemorating World Tennis Day (nee Tennis Night in America). It was abundantly clear that despite the Bryans’ relentlessly positive demeanor; they hadn’t just come to town for the usual hit-and-giggle or even the appearance fee. They came to win a showdown.
“This one we’ve really been looking forward to,” said Mike Bryan of playing at the World’s Most Famous Arena. “We’ve been really kinda antsy to be out there. It felt good to walk on that court. It’s unlike any other arena, just the history, just to be a part of an event at Madison Square Garden.” While the Bryans were certainly inspired by the opportunity to play on the famed Garden floor, they without a doubt were also boosted by bulletin board material provided by the elder McEnroe brother.
In a December 2013 interview ahead of the Statoil (Senior) Masters event in London, John McEnroe made very pointed remarks about doubles and the players who currently specialize in the discipline, “Most doubles players, I hate to say, are the slow guys who were not quick enough to play singles,” McEnroe opined at the time, specifically calling out the Bryans asking “What do you think they are playing doubles for?” In the same conversation, McEnroe also called on the sport’s tournaments to ditch doubles and use the funds to help lower-ranked singles players afford the high cost of a pro career. “Why we are even playing doubles at this point is a mystery to me.” After three games, the World No.1s had earned 12 of the 13 points played.
Why a mercy rule wasn’t in effect might have been the bigger mystery to the audience at MSG, as the West Coast twins ran roughshod over the native New Yorkers. “At 7-0, we were looking at each other, feeling a little weird,” the Bryans noted. They appeared to tamp down the intensity before exiting with an 8-3 win.
The Bryans may have felt some twinges of empathy for their friend and longtime US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. “He’s a prisoner of war, he got caught in the middle,” laughed the Bryans in the post-match presser, while noting they weren’t alone in drawing McEnroe’s ire. “[Patrick] missed a couple of shots and Johnny Mac rolled his eyes, right from the beginning, you could see it in his face.”
Ultimately the McEnroes’ late rally did little to excite the crowd, who were perhaps stunned at the drubbing the Bryans inflicted in the early-going. While the Bryans seemed to be serving clear notice to the elder team regarding John’s comments, they insisted it was merely a matter of the teams’ respective levels. “There’s no bad blood,” the Bryans said. “I don’t know how Johnny’s gonna take it, but it is what it is. We’re in midseason form and we’re the No. 1 team in the world right now”
In the second match of the evening, World No. 2 Novak Djokovic defeated reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray 6-3, 7-6 (2) in a relatively straightforward encounter that saw the retired, reigning ladies champ Marion Bartoli briefly rally with Murray.
Vito Ellison was in Madison Square Garden covering the BNP Paribas Showdown for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal twitter @vblacklabel. and visit his site Blacklabeltennis.com.