Bob Bryan was four months removed from hip replacement surgery when he joined his twin, Mike, for practice sessions in December in the hopes of reuniting the most successful men’s doubles team of tennis’ professional era.
It felt, Bob jokes now, like some sort of audition to earn back his old role after Mike had won two Grand Slam titles with another partner while his brother was sidelined.
On Wednesday at the Australian Open, the Bryans returned to the Grand Slam stage as a team with a first-round victory — one that was significant for Bob, of course, and his for sibling, naturally, but also, perhaps, for Andy Murray, who is considering whether to have the same sort of operation.
“He’s been watching me like a hawk, asking me how I’m feeling after matches, after practices, where I’m at. He’s just trying to gauge how long it would take him, if this procedure is an option,” Bob said about Murray, a three-time major champion who said he will decide soon whether to try surgery for his own painful hip.
“I’m just trying to be supportive. I never once told him, ‘This is the way to go,’ because I do see that singles is a different monster. Those guys are really sliding around, killing themselves for four hours,” Bob continued. “Who knows if this joint would hold up?”
So far, so good for Bob, whose first match back at a major was a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1) win against the Australian duo of Alex Bolt and Marc Polmans.
“Super excited for this moment, to walk out on a court in a Slam. It felt kind of like right where we left off. This guy has worked extremely hard. He’s bringing a very high level,” said Mike, who won championships at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open with Jack Sock while his twin was out. “He’s quick. His serve’s back. He’s got it all. I’m pretty stoked to look over in the deuce court and see this guy back. I can see that he really wanted it. This is the way we want to go out. We want to play together, give it one last run.”
The 40-year-old Americans have won a record 16 Grand Slam trophies as a duo, six at Melbourne Park, and a total of more than 100 tour titles together. They have spent hundreds of weeks ranked No. 1 in doubles.
But Bob was forced off the tour in May because of the deterioration of his hip.
At first, he tried to get by with rehabilitation and remedies such as stem-cell injections. When it was clear that wouldn’t solve the issue, he went under the knife in early August, getting what he said was hip resurfacing with a metal implant.
Within days, he was on crutches. Within weeks, walking with a cane. Within less than two months, lightly hitting tennis balls.
“Yeah, I was a little slow. I was probably only about 60 percent where I am now. He was giving me a little bit of (ribbing),” Bob said about Mike. “He was supportive, but (also said), ‘We can’t go down there like this. You’re not ready.'”
Mike confirmed: “I pushed.”
It sure seemed to pay off Wednesday, and Bob figured that’s a good sign for Murray.
“Look, no one’s ever come back with this surgery on the singles court. I’m showing that it can be done in doubles,” Bob said.
That prompted Mike to add with a chuckle: “See how you feel tomorrow.”