Twenty-five years on from claiming the coveted college ‘triple crown’, U.S. Davis Cup captain Bob Bryan remembers his three years playing college ball with twin brother Mike Bryan at Stanford as “literally the most fun we’ve ever had in tennis”.
The greatest doubles team in tennis history is on hand at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida this week for the NCAA Championships, where they will be inducted into the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall Of Fame.
“Playing for the pride of the programme and playing for our brothers, there was nothing like it,” said Bob, who won the NCAA Singles and Doubles (w/Mike) titles in 1998, and helped Stanford to the teams trophy, a feat that has been matched just once since (Matias Boeker, University of Georgia, 2001). “Just the passion and enthusiasm we felt every time we stepped on the court was on another level.”
In Stanford’s astonishing 1998 season, the team lost a combined three individual points. “I challenge any other team to pull that off,” Bob said. “By the stats our ’98 Stanford team is the greatest in history.”
Bob said that three years with the Cardinal under the guidance of Dick Gould was the foundation that he and Mike needed to embark on their historic ATP Tour career, which netted a jaw-dropping 119 titles together, including 16 majors. Mike agrees.
“Our time at Stanford remains among our greatest years in the sport,” Mike said. “It was so much fun being on a team. And we needed college tennis because we came out of high school pretty undercooked emotionally, socially, and we were small, so we needed to grow. And learning under Dick Gould, who was like a great army General, was key. He helped us grow as people as well as tennis players.
“It was a great springboard for the tour. If we would have turned pro too early, I think we would have been chewed up and spit out.”
Mike fondly recalls when Stanford denied the University of Georgia – and their intense fans – on its home soil in Athens in the NCAA final in 1998.
“It made all the other Davis Cup ties we played in the future a piece of cake because the Barking Bulldogs were nasty,” Mike recalled. “They’re loud. They yelled obscenities… that was kind of the most scared we’ve ever been walking out onto a tennis court.
“I remember one of our guys said “Don’t do the chest bump. Don’t even try it man. They’re gonna eat you alive.’ But we got through it and we had that stellar team that was undefeated. We then put on another run after that by winning the doubles and Bob took the triple crown, which was cool and we got the wild card into the US Open. Dick Gould actually pulled us into his office. He said: ‘You guys are ready, it’s time to turn pro.’”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s induction into the ITA Hall of Fame, Bob said: “It means a lot and it’s given us a great opportunity to come to Orlando and see a lot of the coaches that we faced and former players that we played against and just reminisce on all the just the beautiful memories that we made in college.
“It’s a great community of players and we’re super stoked to be here and receiving that honour.”
Mike also lent his support to the new college accelerator programme, an initiative between the ATP and ITA, which will award wild cards into ATP Challenger Tour events to the Top-20 ranked ITA college players.
“It’s great because the level in college tennis is amazing. And it just gives guys a better opportunity once they leave college to jump into the tour because it’s a long road sometimes if you start from scratch,” Mike said.