Bob Bryan aims to build brotherhood culture as U.S. Davis Cup captainBy Jan 31, 2024
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Bob Bryan aims to build brotherhood culture as U.S. Davis Cup captain
Bryan, who assumed the captaincy in 2023, leads a squad of Americans that includes Taylor Fritz and Sebastian Korda into Lithuania to face Ukraine.
Published Jan 31, 2024
When it comes to Davis Cup, U.S. captain Bob Bryan's origin story took place 34 years ago. In February 1990, he and his brother Mike attended a tie in the San Diego area. There, the two promising 11-year-olds met squad member Rick Leach and took in all the star-spangled pageantry and competitive intensity that make Davis Cup so enthralling.
These many decades later, after having competed in 31 Davis Cup ties, the flame lit by that encounter continues to burn. Last week, one day prior to heading off to Eastern Europe for America’s opening Davis Cup tie versus Ukraine, Bob spoke with me about his hopes for 2024 and the two singles matches that will get underway on Thursday, followed on Friday by doubles and, if necessary, two more singles.
Bob was named to the position in March 2023, which meant starting mid-season, several months prior to a post-US Open September trip to Croatia for the Group Stage of the Davis Cup final. The hope was that from there, the U.S. team would advance to November’s Final 8 stage in Malaga, Spain.
But America’s effort to capture the Cup for the first time since 2007—an effort clinched in Portland by Bob and Mike’s doubles win—ended when the U.S. team was eliminated by Finland at the Group Stage.
Now in charge from the beginning of the campaign, Bob said, “I’m trying to build a culture of brotherhood and teamwork among the guys. Some of the players look at [Davis Cup] as a little bit of an afterthought. I want to make sure it’s on the goal list.” To help advance that objective, Bryan over the last few months has communicated extensively with various American male players.
For this upcoming tie versus Ukraine, Bryan is particularly excited about the three choices he has for the two singles spots—Taylor Fritz, Sebastian Korda, and Davis Cup newcomer Chris Eubanks. “Everyone can serve really well and everyone can bust a forehand and a backhand,” he said. Added to the mix are a pair of experienced doubles players, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek, a duo Bryan called, “a little bit of the anchor of the team.”
Ukraine’s players are Vitaliy Sachko, Oleksi Krutykh, Viacheslav Bielinskyi, Vladyslav Orlov, and Illya Belborodko. Though none of these five has ever cracked the top 150, the history of Davis Cup is filled with tales of men who found new levels of competitive intensity and acumen when national pride was involved. Amid the horrors of recent years, patriotism will be even more of a motivator for the Ukrainian squad. The current war is the reason why this tie is being played in Vilnius, Lithuania, just under 500 miles northwest from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.
“We haven’t forgotten what’s going on there,” said Bob. “We’ll be competing in solidarity with them. We’ll be wearing the ribbons during our matches with them. We’re going to treat this tie in the right spirit and all have a good time, compete hard and definitely have our minds on the bigger issues as well.”
Playing surface might also play a role. The American team is used to competing on moderately paced outdoor hardcourts. Davis Cup matches of late have been frequently played on fast indoor courts. “It’s very aggressive tennis,” said Bob. “There’s very little working the point . . . guys who play on it are very good at just hitting the ball as hard as they can.”
Then there’s the matter of being on the road. “We have ten fans and they have 500,” said Bob. “We have to manufacture our own energy. . . so we’re learning to adjust.”
Starting in 2019, the Davis Cup format has been completely revamped. While early round ties such as this one versus Ukraine resemble the prior home-and-away format of bygone years, the new round-robin approach that happens in later rounds, combined with the elimination of three-out-of-five set matches and staging the competition at a neutral site, has often proven confusing and far less filled with the visceral drama long part of Davis Cup.
Bob would like to see some of the prior elements return. “I love the format I grew up watching,” he said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity to showcase tennis here in the United States and in markets that sometimes don’t get to see world class tennis up close. It’s a chance to put racquets in kids’ hands and inspired communities. I’d love to see us have the chance to play more home matches.”
That will have to wait.