Mike Bryan summed up the status of doubles tennis. "When fans come up to us and say, 'You're our favorite team,' " he said, "I'm like, 'Who's your second-favorite team?' "
Mike and twin brother Bob not only are the most successful doubles pair in the open era's 46-year history, going for a 100th career tournament title at the U.S. Open, but they are the only male doubles team known to most fans.
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The distaff duo of Serena and Venus Williams derive their fame from singles success, so that leaves the Bryans as their discipline's celebrities. On Monday, Louis Armstrong Stadium was overflowing with 10,100 fans and another several hundred waiting to get in for the Bryans' late-morning, third-round, straight-sets victory over fellow Americans Bradley Klahn and Tim Smyczek.
"Well," Mike said, 'I think Novak [Djokovic] was playing right after us. But it's good to come out at 11 o'clock and see a full house. It's very rare that people show up that early. And we've played some empty houses, too."
But not nearly so empty, or small, as their doubles colleagues. "We learned a lot from teams that came before us," Bob said, "like the Jensen brothers" -- Luke and Murphy -- whose one major-tournament title at the 1993 French Open is 14 short of the Bryans' total.
"We learned that tennis is not just about wins and losses. It's about entertainment," Bob said. "You want to show the fans a good time, and the Jensens were masters of that . . . As little kids, watching those guys, we just had a blast. We even had the Jensen temporary tattoo on our arms."
So while questions about the faded power of American men's tennis has pestered singles players for years, it hasn't touched the Bryans. "We don't feel the pressure of being the last Americans standing," Bob said.
"A lot of times, we're carrying the flag for doubles," Mike said. "As you know, it's very different from singles. And even when we're done as players, we'll still be ambassadors for doubles. Maybe even commissioners."