By Randy Walker
While Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray may have been the headliner Monday at Madison Square Garden’s BNP Paribas Showdown, the undercard match that pitted John and Patrick McEnroe against Bob and Mike Bryan may have provided more intrigue.
The “Battle of the Brothers” match-up gained an edge in December when John McEnroe, appearing at the Royal Albert Hall “senior” event in London, criticized the current state of professional doubles – and with it, the Bryans, the winners of a record 15 major men’s doubles titles.
“Doubles, why we are even playing at his point is a mystery to me,’ McEnroe was quoted, as documented in the Daily Mail. “Most of you know I love doubles but I don’t even recognise what they are playing. If you cut out doubles and gave that money to singles players between 200 and 1000 maybe that would do something for the success of the game. I don’t know what doubles is bringing to the table right now. Most doubles players, I hate to say, are the slow guys who were not quick enough to play singles. Would the Bryan brothers have made it as singles players? No. What do you think they are playing doubles for? ‘I like them and single handedly they are trying to keep doubles going. But sometimes I hear people saying they are the greatest doubles team. I’m like “excuse me?”’
To boot, John McEnroe, at age 55, had been showing some buzz-worthy form on the PowerShares Series “champions” circuit, leading the singles rankings and being just points from beating the Bryans former Davis Cup teammates, the newly-retired Andy Roddick and James Blake, in one-set matches. (McEnroe had break point at 4-4 against Roddick in the final of the Birmingham event, losing 7-5. He had 0-15 on Blake’s serve at 4-5 and 5-6 in the final of the Salt Lake City event.)
Within a few minutes on Monday night, the Bryans were quickly up 3-0, winning 12 of the first 13 points. Then, after Patrick McEnroe, 47, had a game point on his serve before double-faulting on break point, it became 4-0. Then Bob Bryan held easily for 5-0. Then John McEnroe was broken for a second time and it became 6-0. Then, with an easy hold from Mike Bryan, it was 7-0 with Patrick McEnroe serving to fend off being served a New York style bagel, with the McEnroes only able to win nine points in the seven games. The Bryans got within two points of the shutout, getting to 15-30 on Patrick’s serve, before the McEnroes finally got on the scoreboard, John raising his hands in triumph and Patrick rifling a ball into the rafters of the arena in celebration. As the Bryans lost focus – Bob Bryan being broken the next game – and Patrick beginning to find his range on his backhand, the match soon ended with a 8-3 decision for the 35-year-old twins.
“We had a good friendly match out there. There was no bad blood,” said Bob Bryan after the match, reminding members of the media that he and John McEnroe had cleared the air about the comments with a phone conversation weeks earlier. “We are very close to Patrick, especially. We stayed at his house and had hundreds and hundreds of practice with the guy (as U.S. Davis Cup captain). That’s never gonna change.”
The Bryans joked of seeing John McEnroe roll his eyes at his younger brother, who is not nearly as active in competitive tennis as his brother and struggled at the start of the match, particularly with his volleys. When asked if their famous tennis dad coach Wayne Bryan had any advice for them against the McEnroes, Bob Bryan answered with a laugh, “He doesn’t really care about the entertainment. He wanted us to stomp them!”
In the marquee match of the night later in the evening, Djokovic defeated Murray 6-3, 7-6 (2).