NEW CANAAN -- It's not every day the world's greatest tennis team breezes through town, but it was the second time in as many summers at the Lake Club on the Wilton-New Canaan border.
The Bryan Brothers, Bob and Mike, who won Olympic Gold in 2012 and have captured 92 doubles titles, came back to the Lake Club for another exhibition and to help raise money for Norwalk Grassroots Tennis, an organization which helps underprivileged kids play the sport.
"We all like giving back and supporting the kids that are underprivileged," Bob Bryan said. "For this to be tied in with Norwalk is awesome and we're glad to help out."
Although the total amount of money raised was not immediately known, the Lake Club raised over $7,000 during the Bryan's last visit a year ago, and Norwalk Grassroots director of tennis David Kimani says he's seen the program continue to expand since his first year back in 2000. At that time, Grassroots was only a summer activity, though it has since grown into a year-round program.
"It went from just being something to keep kids busy so that they would stay out of trouble to a program that's developing tennis player who play well in tournaments," Kimani said. "Our biggest emphasis is education and helping them do well in school."
For the Bryan's and their opponents, Max Mirnyi and Horia Tecau, the sixth-ranked doubles team in the world, it wasn't a typical high-pressure tennis match, as all four made playful banter between points and often jokingly asked members of the crowd to determine whether a ball had landed in or out.
"It's great. This is a very nice club. It's the first time I've been here and I've enjoyed meeting everyone," Tecau said. "Everyone is nice and it's a great thing that they're organizing here and we're glad to be a part of it."
Fans in the front row were seated no more than 10-12 feet away from the court, providing an up-close-and-personal experience.
"It's an advantage for those who don't have the chance to get out and experience it at the U.S. Open," Mirnyi said. "Sometimes tickets are tough to get, so it's a pleasure to come out here for us. We get to interact with them, they get to see us up close and hopefully they get to see some good tennis."
While the atmosphere was certainly laid back, the Bryan's believe that it can still help them get ready for upcoming U.S. Open.
"We'll look to put on a good show. We really enjoy it and even though it's on dirt, it's good prep for the Open," Mike Bryan said. "It's less pressure, it's a fun atmosphere and we're all trying to get sharp for the Open."
"We had a blast last year, met a lot of nice people and it's great preparation for the Open to have a live match against a great team," Bob Bryan said. "It's good practice and it's fun at the same time.
In between the two sets, Grassroots players got to take the court opposite the Bryan's and take turns rallying with them.
"I came here last year and it was so much fun, so I was really excited to come again," said Norwalk's Pratyusha Chintalapedi, who is the No. 1 singles player of the U14 team that made it to upcoming Nationals in South Carolina on Oct. 17. "They're amazing. (Playing against them) was nerve-wracking but it was fun. My mom one day brought me to the courts and I fell in love with playing tennis with all these people."
Norwalk's Alyah Fresnel, who has been with Grassroots for two years, sang the National Anthem prior to the event.
"It was very exciting. I'm glad I got to do it," Fresnel said. "(Grassroots is) another family. I know I'll be involved with Grassroots for as long as I can for high school, volunteering and playing tennis with them for as long as I can. They've changed my life basically."
The Bryan's eventually took the match 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, and played in their band once it was completed.
They indicated that they'd be open to making their trip to the Lake Club an annual event.
"Hopefully we'll do it every year," Mike Bryan said. "This is a great club, we've met a lot of nice people here and they look like they're having a great time."
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