Bob was in a neighboring box on the screen from his home in Florida, lamenting with Mike the idea of playing their final match under conditions that would probably feel more like a practice session, even if another Grand Slam title was on the line. “That’s not what we signed up for,” Bob said.
They have signed up for World Team Tennis, the coed competition that pits teams of players against each other in a series of short matches. Usually the nine-team league plays its annual summer season in various cities throughout the country. This year, it’s all happening at The Greenbrier, a West Virginia resort that has created a restricted, supposedly clean environment where the players will live and compete and up to 500 fans will be allowed.
With coronavirus infection rates rising and professional athletes in other sports testing positive, no one knows whether the tennis league will ultimately be able to pull off its season, though it has the luxury of being a brief, isolated sprint, compared with the three-month traveling circus that baseball is planning.
For the Bryan brothers, World Team Tennis represents an experiment of sorts. They turned 42 in April, long past the sell-by date for most professional tennis players, even those who have to cover only half the court. Bob had a right hip procedure two years ago. World Team Tennis will require them to play more than a dozen matches in 20 days, which will give them a decent idea of whether their bodies might be able to handle the rigors of the pro tour for another 14 months.
The first part of this year showed some promise. They lost in the third round of the Australian Open, then won a tournament in Delray Beach, Fla. It was the their 119th title together. Then they won their doubles match in a Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan in Honolulu.