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Bryans fast enough to thrash McEnroes at Garden

John McEnroe hitting a forehand volley against Bob

John McEnroe hitting a forehand volley against Bob and Mike Bryan while competing in a mix double exhibition match during the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden March 3, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

A little friction never hurts when it comes to sports promotion. So for Monday night's seventh annual Madison Square Garden tennis exhibition, who better to yank someone's chain that John McEnroe, the sport's most prominent rabble-rouser?

On several occasions in the past year, when the subject of whether the Bryan twins, Mike and Bob, have proved themselves to be the best doubles team in history -- based on their record 96 tour titles -- McEnroe has demurred.

Doubles, the 55-year-old former singles and doubles champion reiterated in December, these days consists of "slow guys who were not quick enough to play singles." To the Bryans' claim of best ever, "I'm like, 'Excuse me?' " McEnroe said.

So why not as an appetizer to a demonstration match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray: McEnroe and his 47-year-old brother Patrick, a tennis lifer who was a solid pro in his time, against the 35-year-old Bryans?

Except that the Bryans proved far quicker, nimbler, more powerful -- younger -- in sweeping aside the McEnroes in a first-to-win-eight-games set, 8-3.

There was only one extended rally, on the first point of the sixth game (also won by the Bryans), as the Bryans raced through the first seven games and John McEnroe needed a video reversal to take the last point of the ninth game.

That left the night to Djokovic and Murray, both 26, who have been tangling with each other for 15 years, since junior tennis days. Djokovic won, 6-3, 7-6 (2). Theirs is a familiar rivalry, though one best enjoyed on the Grand Slam stage with real stakes.

Monday night's greater intrigue, if not the better tennis, was in the cross-generation doubles dare.

The Garden program, part of a "World Day of Tennis" with similar exhibitions in Hong Kong and London earlier in the day, was meant to inspire young kids to "pick up a racket," Mike Bryan said, by offering "some smiles and laughs and top-quality tennis, too."

To which Bob added, with a sly dig at the always tightly wound John McEnroe, "Smiles from three of us, at least."

Mike Bryan made it clear that "it was no fun reading" what John McEnroe had said about them and modern doubles, but the combatants insisted there really is no comparing generations.

Just don't extrapolate, John McEnroe said, from declarations of increased tennis athleticism "that we were slow old farts back in the day when I was the best player in the world and that we were mediocre athletes . . . that we were crap, basically."

In the end, Patrick McEnroe said, Monday night could be "summarized by saying it was one of the greatest doubles teams of all time, one of the greatest doubles players of all time. And me."

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