Double Duty Doubles
September 9, 2009 -- The best seats at the U. S. Open day session were for doubles action: semifinals for the men and quarterfinals for the women.
America's Mike and Bob Bryan, the #1 team in the world and seeded #1 here at the Open, battled Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy deep inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Then Liezel Huber and Cara Black, also #1 in the world and in their seeding, contended with two women whose names are the longest ever in the history of tennis thereby causing journalists to stumble over spelling of their names and pronunciation while hoping at least one would donate a nickname. They were Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the #6 seeded team.
The icing on the cake was the Williams sisters' (#4), who vied for a place in the semifinals against the tight Chinese team of Jie Zheng and Zi Yan (#11). This match got so rambunctious that the crowd, at one point, chanted "Let's go Venus... Let's go Venus," as she served for the first set. When Serena struck the ball, you would have thought she was on the singles semifinal warpath. She grunted like a champ! The sounds were thick low vibrations, mean sounding the way a lioness warns stalkers near a den of cubs.
The sisters had to press to put the first set away at 7-5, after their 5-2 lead dissolved. The Chinese team had worked them over with finesses and ball placement, not power. That weapon belonged to Venus and Serena. The American team went up a break early in the second, but had to bear down even more when Zheng and Yan tied them at 3-games all. But as they do in singles competition during majors, the sisters raised their level of play and took the match 7-5 6-3. Zheng and Yan can walk away from their performance today with heads held high. The last time they played the Williams sisters was at Wimbledon this summer. They lost to the Americans 6-0 6-0.
In the first men's doubles match of the day, Bob and Mike Bryan hopped and hustled over every square inch of Arthur Ashe Stadium court, two well-rehearsed athletic dancers, two souls as one, identical at birth and on a tennis court. At changeovers they sat down simultaneously, bottles of water cracked open in unison, they tipped the bottles and drank as if following the cue of a symphony conductor.
Bob is the lefty and Mike is the righty. They come from a family of tennis -- both parents taught the sport, their father a major influence in their success and the success of tennis worldwide. His energy sometimes outpaces that of his sons. But if you set aside the genetics and acknowledge the slight possibility the Bryan brothers as twins would land on this planet and grow into arguably the best men's doubles team in history, the drama of their careers ignites and lights up an audience like no other men's team can.
Mike has one more title -- 56 -- than brother Bob with 55. Mike Bryan and Mark Knowles teamed up to win Nottingham in 2002. Neither Bryan has a singles title. Neither has gone beyond the second round of a major in singles, either. Maybe they miss each other too much. Maybe they just love doubles. More people play doubles in the United States than play singles. It's the game to play as age erases agility and the ability to cover the whole court, and track down every ball that flies at you.
In doubles you own half the court, but double the responsibility because you aren't there alone. You have to know where your partner is and how he or she will react to shots. Doubles is fast, much faster than singles.
The Bryan's innate sense of speed and touch is beyond words, but recognized by all who witness their brilliance. To explain their interconnectedness runs parallel to making sense of the infinite expanse of the universe. They have won seven Grand Slam titles, and were going for another one today. They hoisted last year's trophies, but they won't make it a repeat performance because Paes and Dlouhy beat the Bryan brothers in three difficult sets 64 36 76 (6).
The match was decided in the third set tiebreak. Bob and Mike dug a hole for themselves, falling behind 5-0. However, they danced their way to 6-all. Two points later they were at the net, shaking hands with their opponents. They will wait for next year's Australian Open to attempt their 8th Grand Slam title.
Paes and Dlouhy have now defeated the #1 and #2 men's doubles teams at the U. S. Open. They will play Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles in the final on Friday, 11 AM. Bhupathi and Paes played together for many years as a team, but broke off their relationship a couple years back when doubles players shifted partners in order to create combinations that would defeat the Bryans. Paes and Dlouhy seem as though they have found their niche.
The #1 team of Huber and Black defeated the Spanish team of Vives and Sanchez by a score of 63 26 75. It was a squeaky win by Huber and Black. The Spanish women have had a terrifically successful season and fought hard to make a place for themselves in the semifinals.
Leander Paes will team up with Cara Black and vie for the Mixed Doubles title tomorrow. Paes could go home with two major titles at the end of this U. S. Open -- one in men's doubles and one in mixed doubles competition. And, Cara Black could do the same - if she and Huber advance to the final. However, they must first get past Aussies Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs.