NEW YORK (AP) – With history on the line, the Bryan brothers finally met their match.
Trying to become only the second men’s doubles team to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single year, Bob and Mike Bryan saw their bid end with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss Thursday to Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in the U.S. Open semifinals.
“As competitors, we hate to lose and we knew what was riding on this match and the opportunity of what we could have accomplished,” Bob Bryan said. “And then in one sense, it’s a little bit of a relief where you get to kind of exhale for the first time in a few months.”
For nearly 12 months, a span that included 28 straight wins in Grand Slam matches, seemingly every bounce and every bit of luck went the Bryans’ way. It put them two wins away from joining the 1951 Aussie team of Ken McGregor and Frank Sedgman as only the second to capture the calendar Slam in men’s doubles.
But on a blustery afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium — their third appearance there of the tournament — the 35-year-old identical twins ran into a pair of fast-handed veterans who have never backed down from them.
“You leave that door a little ajar, I will find my foot through it,” said Paes, 40, who has 13 major titles of his own, seven in men’s doubles and six more in mixed. “Once I get my foot through it, I got my body through it. Once I get my body through it, I get him through it.”
News of the result filtered over to Melbourne, where Sedgman woke up Friday morning and was greeted by a text from his daughter telling him his spot in tennis history was safe. But the 85-year-old former champion, whose doubles partner died in 2007, said there’s no denying the Bryans’ greatness.
“Obviously, they will go down as one of the best ever doubles pairings,” Sedgman said. “I really thought they had a good chance to break it.”
Less than an hour after the Bryans lost, some good news for American doubles: Venus and Serena Williams rolled through the top-seeded defending champions, Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani, to take their spot in the semifinals.
Two more wins would give make it 14 Grand Slam doubles title for the sisters. Serena is also two wins away from a second straight singles title here.
The Bryans, meanwhile, remain stuck on 15 Grand Slam championships and must “settle” for the “Bryan Slam” — the four straight majors they won starting at Flushing Meadows last year, when they beat Paes and Stepanek in the final. At Wimbledon in July, they capped that slam, making them the first team since McGregor and Sedgman to hold all four titles at once.
“Then once we did that, we didn’t really get to rest on our laurels too much,” Bob Bryan said. “It’s a never-ending run of history and records and there is always something on the horizon. That’s what makes this sport so fun, is, there is always the next goal.”
Already guaranteed of finishing first in the rankings for a record ninth time, the Bryans will take some time off and figure out what that next goal is.
They will try to set aside this loss quickly.
After losing only one point on their serve and committing not a single unforced error, the Bryans looked like they might be in for a short afternoon of work against Paes and Stepanek.
But things changed suddenly. Paes upped his game, started picking off volleys for easy winners when his partner was serving and playing dink and dunk against the Bryans the rest of the time.
“He started feeling it,” Bob Bryan said. “Yes, he can get hot.”
Paes’ change of pace left the Bryans stuck in cement. There was no escape act to make this time, the way they did when they switched sides for their return games after losing the first set in the third round — or when they saved two set points in the first set of the quarterfinals.
“It got stickier. The holds became tougher,” Mike Bryan said. “I don’t remember missing a first serve in the first set, and we were reeling off those games. Then they started clawing into our service games. When you’re serving down break points and deuce games, it becomes a lot tougher and the pressure mounts.”
They fell behind by two breaks in the third set and actually clawed back to get one of them back. But Stepanek served out the final game at love. Instead of the match ending with the trademark “Bryan Bump,” the Bryans simply hugged. On the other side of the net, Stepanek leaped into Paes’ arms and then they did a nifty little side-shuffle dance in front of their chairs on the sideline.
The Stepanek-Paes team improved to 4-4 lifetime against the Bryans and added another chapter to a nice little story of their own. Stepanek was out of action after neck surgery this year following the Australian Open.
“When he got injured, I got lots of phone calls to play with other guys, but that’s not what you do,” Paes said. “What you do is you stand by your partner. I have tremendous belief in him, and he’s really shown that belief coming good.”
While they move on, the Bryans take some time to make some sense of it all. Out of answers on a Grand Slam court for the first time in a year, they started coming to grips with the opportunity that slipped away.
“Realistically, it will probably never happen,” Mike Bryan said. “The margins are just so fine in doubles. There are just too many great teams out there and too much can go wrong, and a lot has to go right to be in that position.
“So, we gave it everything we had.”
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