Bob and Mike Bryan’s place in tennis history is secure.They’ve won 92 titles overall, more than any men’s doubles team in history.They’ve already clinched the No. 1 year-end doubles ranking for 2013 — for a ninth time in 11 years and the earliest that the top ranking has been clinched. Historic.They’ve won four consecutive Grand Slam doubles titles since winning the Olympic gold medal in London. Historic.They helped the Texas Wild reach the World TeamTennis playoffs. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, historically, compared to their other accomplishments, but it gave local tennis fans a close-up look at the 35-year-old Californians earlier this summer.But when it comes to history, the Bryan Bros., as they are known, are on the verge of something special, something even they consider almost unimaginable.Over the next two weeks at the U.S. Open in Flushing, N.Y., the twins have a chance to win a fifth U.S. Open men’s doubles title, making them the first men’s doubles players in the Open era, and only the second team ever, to win a calendar-year Grand Slam, the rarest of the rare in tennis accomplishments.It’s the Holy Grail for a professional player.Australians Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman did it in 1951. That duo almost did it twice, only to have their streak of seven consecutive Grand Slam titles snapped at the U.S. Open in 1952.“To hold all four Slams at one time is something we never really dreamed about,” Mike Bryan said. “We’ve been on a run for the last 12 months that we couldn’t never have imagined.“The sights are to win that calendar-year Slam, that’s what the historians think is the most important. To do it at our home Slam at the U.S. Open would be really cool.”It would be a great accomplishment for the Bryans and for American tennis. But some former players think the brothers have maybe had it a little too easy.During two separate conference calls this week, three former champions questioned whether the Bryans’ dominance has been aided by the fact that the world’s top player are forgoing doubles to concentrate on the sports’ biggest prize, a Grand Slam singles title.“Doubles generally, [the Bryans have] clearly helped [keep doubles in the spotlight],” said Cliff Drysdale, who won the U.S. Open doubles title in 1972. “The Jensens [Murphy and Luke], they helped tremendously when they were at the top. Tennis needs those guys.“They’re electrifying. [The Bryan brothers] are probably the best doubles team that ever played. That said, the singles players are not playing doubles anymore. So there’s always an asterisk.”John McEnroe, who is considered among the best doubles players ever in addition to his seven-time Grand Slam singles titles, might not be ready to put an asterisk on the Bryans’ accomplishment, but he sees the doubles game fighting to stay relevant.“I think, first of all, the Bryans are doing a great job trying to prop up doubles,” McEnroe said. “Without them it would be in even worse shape than it is. They can only play who is in front of them. They’ve done a great job, especially this year.“As far as doubles, it’s on life support. At this stage, it’s been proven by the singles players that there is no real advantage for them to play doubles. Roger [Federer] doesn’t play much doubles, although I think it propelled him to a U.S. Open win in 2008. When he won the doubles at the Olympics, it gave him confidence using some net play that he took advantage of winning the Open that year.”With the top names in the sport forgoing doubles to concentrate on singles, doubles has been taken over by “specialists.”Players such as Southlake resident Mark Knowles, Daniel Nestor and Leander Paes have gained a measure of fame in recent years by sticking primarily to the doubles court, but even avid tennis fans might be challenged to recognize Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares.Peya of Austria and Soares of Brazil have a comfortable lock on the world’s No. 2 doubles ranking with 4,985 points — 7,000 points behind the Bryan Bros.“You’ve got a lot of guys that very, very few, if any, people know them,” McEnroe said “Not even in the tennis world a lot of these guys are known. It’s a shame. It’s a great game.” Chris Evert said that the singles competition at majors has become so demanding that most top-level players can’t afford to risk playing doubles.“I think doubles is at a disadvantage right away because the competition is so tough, the Masters are so grueling in singles; and the Grand Slams, it’s physically and mentally impossible for a top player to play doubles, I feel,” Evert said. “The players can complain about playing too much even during the year, so how are they going to add doubles onto their routine? It’s unfortunate.“The years that Martina [Navratilova] and Pam Shriver dominated, McEnroe and Peter Fleming dominated, they were having really easy singles matches until the quarters or semis. They used that as practice. But it’s just really tough for the big names, the top players, to play doubles or mixed. It’s a shame because doubles is very, very entertaining.”And without doubt, the Bryan brothers are the game’s headline entertainers.“They’ve carried the torch for doubles for so long and I worry about what happens after they go away because doubles won’t be the same without their personalities and their style,” Evert said. New scheduleThe USTA has scrapped the old “Super Saturday” setup that featured both men’s semifinals and the women’s final on Saturday, followed by the men’s final Sunday.This year, the women’s singles final moves to Sunday, Sept. 8, and the men’s final to Monday, Sept. 9, building in a day of rest ahead for each title match and moving from a 14-day tournament to 15 days.According to the USTA, it’s the first time since 1954 that the tournament is scheduled to end on a Monday. Each of the past five years, rain has pushed the men’s final from Sunday to Monday.Those weather-related problems should soon become a thing of the past. The USTA announced plans earlier this month to build two retractable roofs. Arthur Ashe Stadium could be covered by the 2016 tournament, although it might not be ready until 2017. The current schedule will remain in place next year, but it is set to change again in 2015 with women’s semifinals Thursday, men’s semifinals Friday, women’s final Saturday, men’s final Sunday.Also changing in 2015, the men’s first-round matches will be reduced from three days to two.
Rusty Hall, 817-390-7816 Twitter: @RustyHall10s