Bryan brothers a smash at Lake Club
WILTON - Before Bob and Mike Bryan, the greatest men's doubles team, perhaps ever, winners of 11 grand slam titles and most recently a gold medal in the London Olympics, took the court in an exhibition match against doubles veterans Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr, they played with members of the Lake Club in Wilton.
At one point during one of the matches, a Lake Club member hit a hard, flat, two-handed backhand down the line past a bewildered Mike Bryan. The crowd of five or so watching went nuts, in what is likely to become a family story in that member's household for years to come.
Before the main exhibition match, the Bryan brothers spoke for several minutes about their careers, the importance of winning a gold medal, and whether they still room together on tour -- they don't.
"I have a wife," Bob quipped. "Occasionally we get a connecting room, but Mike just got engaged, so the two of us will be fully divorced by the end of the year."
The green Har-Tru clay courts at the Lake Club are placed around a central lodge with a large wooden deck. On the other side of the courts are a forest and the lake for which the club is named. One can also hear kids jumping and splashing in club's pool at times, just on the other side of a thicket of trees.
As the players began warming up, the impeccably dressed crowd settled down into clean, white folding chairs encircling the court or into raised tables behind the chairs.
A worker went around with a cart of Moët &Chandon champagne, a sponsor of the event, which was served in single small bottles with a thin black funnel coming out of the top.
As the match was set to begin, the emcee of the event made a Moet Chandon toast to the Bryan brothers for their success at the Olympics and for good luck in the upcoming U.S. Open.
Following the toast, the microphone was handed off to the Bryan brothers' father, Wayne, who proved to be a source of color throughout the match.
The Bryans then set to dismantling seasoned Australian doubles players, jumping out to a 3-0 lead.
But it would not be a walkover for the Bryans, who the day before had beaten American Ryan Harrison and Belarusian Max Mirnyi 8-0 at a similar event at another country club in the area. Down 3-0, Kerr angled a hard cross-court winner. This being their first winner of the match, Kerr beckoned to the crowd with his arms, drawing a response of cheers.
Fisher/Kerr won the game to make it 3-1, breaking Mike Bryan's serve, whose toss is so low it seems to barely go above the top of his cap. Fisher/Kerr went on to win the following game as well, to make it 3-2.
During the changeover, Wayne Bryan had the sound people turn on some salsa music and assembled the ball boys and girls at center court. He told them that whoever dances the best would get a Bryan brothers racquet. Only the smallest boy, and only after hesitation, began to twist and squirm. The other three ball boys and girls, stricken in the moment, stood stock still. The little guy won by default.
After the music was turned off, Fisher and Kerr got to 3-3 on a nice smash down the line by Kerr.
On one point a stray ball hit the champagne table. This caused a collective gasp from the crowd,
"Not the champagne!" a man wailed. Fisher and Kerr would win that game too.
At the 4-3 change, the audience was quiet, as if nervous that Fisher/Kerr might take the set. The match was only going to be two sets, regardless of the score, and the feeling was that people wanted a solid victory for the Bryan's.
On the first point of the game, Mike came to net and volleyed a ball at his knees right into the net tape, putting the Bryan's down love-15. After losing the next point, Mike double-faulted to love-40. On the following point, Fisher lofted a ball over Mike's head to break the Bryans at love and make it 5-3.
Between games, Wayne announced that the Citi commercial in which the brothers starred ran 800 times before and during the Olympics.
"That's what's going to buy them a house here in New Canaan," he joked.
At 30-30 and down 5-3, Bob hit a `tweener from the baseline, which Fisher dropped cross court for an easy winner. Fisher, serving for the game, showed off an unconventionally mechanical serve. The Bryans won the next two points and then held their own serve to tie the match up at 5-5.
The point of the match may have come at love-15 when an unbelievably gentle and powerful rally of volleys, drop shots, smashes and defensive returns was capped off with a smash from Bob Bryan which was countered with a beautiful cross court topspin forehand from Lindsay that fell just outside of the alley at the service line. The crowd applauded excitedly following the long point.
The Bryans won that game and the next one to take the first set 7-5 to the relief of many in attendance.
During the intermission, the Norwalk Grassroots Tennis program, a program for urban kids from the Norwalk area, got to have some of their kids play points against the Bryans. Wayne announced that if the two boys win, the Bryans would buy them a Mercedes-Benz, but the Bryans took the game.
Then two girls from the program got a chance to play. Volleying at net, one girl stuck it right at Bob's body. He tried to maneuver, but put it into the net: point 11-year-old.
"Bob will now ace this next serve," his dad said to chuckles from the crowd.
Wayne heard that there were twin brothers in the Grassroots Tennis program and had the twins hold the Bryan brothers' hands as they play the next point. "A sickening amount of twins on the court" Wayne boomed into the microphone.
In the second set, Fisher/Kerr came out swinging and took the first game at love.
During a rally in the second game, a ball girl ran right across the court in the middle of the point to pick up a ball. She barely missed getting whacked, and the players had to stop the point.
"Give her a hand, she's doing a great job," Wayne said, and the audience gave the girl an encouraging round of applause.
Mike absolutely dominated two floating returns in the game, putting each away with a devastating drop volley to tie it at 1-1.
On a particularly complex point at 2-2, the Bryans switch sides seamlessly, as if they know exactly where the other one would be covering.
A Kerr double fault drops Kerr/Fisher down to 3-2 in the Bryans favor.
At 3-2, Mike leapt through the air to drop a volley with so much touch and spin, it fell no more than three feet past the net and spun back into the bottom of the net on one bounce.
The Bryans began to pull away, up 5-2.
The Bryans couldn't put the match away just yet however. "Yours!" Bob screamed out as a heavy forehand split the brothers, both at net. Mike then double faulted at 30-40 to lose the game 5-3.
Between games, Wayne said of the 10-year-old ball boy at his feet, "This ball boy just told me he is in love with that little girl across the net." The ball boy looked up at him in shock, saw that he was smiling, then began vehemently shaking his head as if to say "No, no, no!"
Up 5-3, Bob blasted a forehand off a deep serve, hitting one of the Norwalk Grassroots kids at quite a speed. "Sorry," he said, sheepishly, after mild gasps from the crowd.
The Bryans pulled out the game to win the match 7-5, 6-3. Smiles abounded, and in the postgame interview Mike Bryan said, "This is a beautiful place, we'd love to live here, but we can't afford it."
Based on the adulation from the crowd, it seems that he would be a welcome neighbor.