American doubles fans will finally get their due. Earlier this month, the USTA announced Bob Bryan as the new U.S. Davis Cup captain.
Bryan is one of the most decorated American tennis players in history and one-half of the most successful men’s doubles team of all time. In his new role as captain, he will replace former captain and Davis Cup teammate, Mardy Fish.
During his career, Bob…
- Won 23 grand slam titles (16 men’s doubles, 7 mixed doubles)
- Won 38 ATP Masters 1000 titles
- Held the No. 1 doubles spot for 439 weeks
Bob and his brother/longtime doubles partner, Mike Bryan, retired in August 2020 with 119 career titles and a 1109-359 career record (75 percent win percentage).
Whenever he got the chance, Bob always seized the opportunity to play for his country. Over nearly two decades, he played in a total of 31 Davis Cup ties and posted a 25-5 doubles record with Mike. The Bryan Brothers also won two Olympic medals together in doubles: a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I feel grateful to have represented my country in Davis Cup. These experiences have offered me my proudest moments on the court and my most unforgettable memories. Playing Davis Cup was a dream for me as a young junior and the goal of making the team pushed me while I played on tour.”Bob Bryan in a press release issued by the USTA
How Bob Bryan Became Davis Cup Captain
This announcement was one of the more highly anticipated U.S. Davis Cup leadership transitions we’ve seen in a while. Why? It came on the heels of a highly controversial lineup selection by Fish and a disappointing performance by Team USA in the 2022 Davis Cup Finals that left American tennis fans shaking their heads.
At Davis Cup, it’s often easy to blame a disappointing loss for what happens on the court. Maybe the player you expected to win didn’t play their best or succumbed to the pressure of playing for their home country.
But in this case, it was more about what happened off the court. And all fingers pointed the blame at Fish’s questionable lineup selection.
Where Did Mardy Fish Go Wrong at 2022 Davis Cup?
When announcing the 2022 Davis Cup Finals roster, the U.S. field included a strong core group of current top 20 singles players, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, and Tommy Paul, along with three-time doubles major champion Jack Sock. Many expected the U.S. squad to be a top contender to win the competition.
Among the lineup, however, there was a noticeable absence. The top American doubles player, World No. 3 Rajeev Ram, was not asked to be on the team. This came shortly after Ram ascended to the World No. 1 doubles ranking and won a second consecutive U.S. Open doubles title with his partner, Joe Salisbury.
To be clear, Ram was willing and available to play. Fish, however, decided to go with a leaner, four-player lineup approach (despite the rule that allows up to five players on a roster).
If you have players lining up to play and plenty of American talent to choose from, why wouldn’t you add a fifth player to the roster?
Fish alluded to “team chemistry” reasons when he was asked several times why he didn’t include Ram (or a fifth player altogether) on the lineup. Some compared Fish and the U.S. Davis Cup situation to the likes of a fraternity.
Ram, a 38-year-old veteran player of minority descent, didn’t fit the required mold to “get a bid” alongside the younger tight-knit group of Sock, Fritz, Paul, and Tiafoe.
“So here comes a little plot twist: I reached out to the U.S. captain, Mardy Fish, to see if he wanted to convey his thinking. In part, he wrote: “I love Raj and his DC career with me isn’t over… But this time, Jack will be playing with Frances or Tommy or Taylor. As DC Captain, it’s my job to listen to the players as well. Ultimately, it’s my choice and I make the calls, but I do listen to their thoughts and ideas… I appreciate the question, as it’s important to have folks care about DC. No one wants to win DC more than me, that I can promise you.”Jon Wertheim published in his SI Tennis Mailbag
Crash and Burn: The US Falls to Italy in the Davis Cup Doubles
During the U.S. Davis Cup tie vs. Italy, Fritz and Tiafoe split their singles matches before Tommy Paul and Jack Sock got bounced in straight sets in the deciding doubles rubber by the experienced Italian doubles duo of Simone Bolelli/Fabio Fognini. After the U.S. team failed to clinch the tie in doubles, fans and media on Tennis Twitter erupted quickly.
And guess who led the charge? Rajeev Ram himself.
During the Davis Cup tie that took place over Thanksgiving, Rajeev posted a cheeky Happy Thanksgiving tweet that took a subtle jab at the controversial Davis Cup decision. Not surprisingly, the tweet quickly went viral.
The whole issue caused a public relations disaster for Fish, the U.S. Davis Cup team, and the USTA, which snowballed and eventually led Fish to step down from his role as Captain. Per the USTA statement, The USTA and Fish “mutually agreed to move in a new direction.”
But for American doubles fans, now there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Introducing Bob Bryan: Your New Davis Cup Captain
Bob Bryan has entered the U.S. Davis Cup chat. With his high-energy mentality, Davis Cup enthusiasm, and accomplished doubles resume, can Bob help the U.S. get back to its winning ways?
Ironically, Bryan and Fish were both part of the American squad who last held the Davis Cup trophy in 2007 alongside Mike Bryan, James Blake, and Andy Roddick. If we know one thing about Bob’s leadership as captain, it’s a safe bet to assume he won’t overlook the importance of doubles in the current Davis Cup format.
“Bob knows Davis Cup. He’s passionate about Davis Cup. He was one of the people that always said ‘yes’ to Davis Cup. The guys seem to like him a lot. I’m curious how he’s going to put his brand, his stamp, on it.”Andy Roddick
In the old finals format featuring four singles matches and one doubles match, more emphasis was placed on singles since the likelihood of the tie being decided by singles was greater. In the current finals format with two singles matches and one doubles match, doubles is an integral part of Davis Cup success.
Fortunately, Bryan has already gotten his feet wet with a few stand-in captain appearances. Last year he filled in for Fish, who was suffering from COVID-19, during the qualifying round in Glasgow, where he led the U.S. squad to a 2-1 record that helped them qualify for the finals in Spain.
He and Mike also served as captains of the inaugural All-American Cup in San Antonio last November, an “East vs. West” exhibition of top American players spearheaded by Nick Monroe. Needless to say, this won’t be Bob’s first rodeo leading a team of top Americans.
“I am extremely honored and humbled for this opportunity to captain the United States Davis Cup team. I have been inspired watching these young American players continue to rise and I am motivated to contribute to this positive momentum. I am passionately looking forward to working with the players, their coaches, teams, and the USTA support staff in our mission to bring the Cup back to the United States.“Bob Bryan in a press release issued by USTA
Strength in Numbers: US Men’s Tennis is Deeper Than Ever
When Bob takes the Davis Cup reins for his first tie in September, he will have no shortage of strong lineup options to consider. American men’s tennis is finally experiencing a long-awaited renaissance with the most depth and potential we’ve seen in more than two decades.
In singles, the U.S. currently has three players in the ATP top 20, 10 in the top 50, and 13 in the top 100. In doubles, there are two Americans in the top 10, three in the top 20, six in the top 50, and 11 in the top 100.
- Singles: Taylor Fritz (10), Frances Tiafoe (14), Tommy Paul (19), Sebastian Korda (26), Maxime Kressy (37), Ben Shelton (39), Brandon Nakashima (45), John Isner (46), Jenson Brooksby (49), J.J. Wolf (50), Mackie McDonald (55), Marcos Giron (71), Michael Mmoh (90).
- Doubles: Rajeev Ram (3), Austin Krajicek (10), John Isner (35), Nate Lammons (41), Jackson Withrow (42), Maxime Cressy (72), Mackie McDonald (79), Robert Galloway (83), Jack Sock (86), Hunter Reese (88), Will Blumberg (96).
Possible Davis Cup Doubles Combinations
Given Bob’s doubles expertise, it will be interesting to see which doubles combinations he experiments with in his early days as captain.
Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek
If you go strictly by the U.S. rankings, the obvious picks would be U.S. No. 1 Rajeev Ram and U.S. No. 2 Austin Krajicek. But doubles pairings aren’t always that black and white.
Ram and Krajicek play with different partners on tour and have only played together once thus far. In February, the top American doubles players teamed up to defeat a weak Uzbekistan team 6-2, 6-4 during the Davis Cup qualifying round.
Jack Sock: The World’s Best Doubles Player?
Jack Sock is a likely contender, who many have considered the unofficial best doubles player in the world given his raw athleticism, net ability and instincts, and proven success with many partners.
When Bob Bryan was injured in 2018, Sock partnered with Mike Bryan to win back-to-back majors at the 2018 Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He also won 2014 Wimbledon with Vasek Pospisil and the 2010 U.S Open mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin. Sock’s most recent doubles success came in 2022 when he teamed with John Isner to capture the Indian Wells title.
Sock and Ram played together for the first time during the 2022 Atlanta Open, where they reached the semi-finals, before partnering together at Davis Cup last September during the qualifying round in Glasgow. But there was some speculation that Sock might have influenced Fish’s decision to leave Ram off the Davis Cup squad in November due to doubles chemistry issues.
On the Rise: Nate Lammons & Jackson Withrow
For a dark horse pick, the rising team of Nate Lammons and Jackson Withrow could make for a compelling Davis Cup doubles pair if they continue trending upward. Both ranked just outside the top 40 at No. 41 and 42, respectively, Lammons and Withrow have posted a 15-8 record in 2023 thus far with a recent title at the Arizona Tennis Classic, an ATP 175 Challenger event, and three runner-up performances in Auckland, Dallas, and Acapulco.
Lastly, Bob might consider pairing a top singles player, like Fritz or Tiafoe, with an experienced doubles player like Ram or Sock to create a well-balanced team. Or could players like John Isner or Mackie McDonald make the squad who have proven to be dual threats in singles and doubles on tour?
Only time will tell which players are healthy, available to play, and posting solid results, each of which will influence Bob’s captain decisions.
Looking Ahead: Davis Cup 2023 and Beyond
With three singles players and two doubles players in the top 10, the U.S. should be one of the top teams to beat in Davis Cup this year at full strength. A Davis Cup trophy in 2023 would mark their first title in 16 years and 33rd Davis Cup title in competition history.
In September, the U.S. squad will compete against three countries in a group stage. If the U.S. finishes top two in its group, they will advance to the final eight in November in Malaga, Spain.
Regardless of the outcome this year, let’s hope doubles gets the respect it deserves under Bob Bryan’s leadership.
“What I’m looking forward to is working with the guys throughout the year. Understanding them better. Getting to know them and their coaches. As a captain, you’ve got to understand that everyone is different and responds differently to different words. With coaching, sometimes it’s better not to say too much. I’m definitely going to be a good listener, but I want to bring my enthusiasm, passion and energy to this event and show the guys what an honor it is to represent the U.S. I think these guys are really motivated to win this thing.”Bob Bryan in a press release issued by USTA