Naomi Osaka is a great role model, says Bob Bryan

Bob and Mike—popularly known as the Bryan brothers on the professional tennis tour and regarded as the greatest doubles pair in the sport—were for a change watching the US Open on television, having announced their retirement days prior to the tournament.

The identical twins felt surreal watching a Grand Slam final in a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium amid the pandemic and could only imagine the energy of the crowd adding to the ebb and flow of the topsy-turvy last set and tie-breaker of the Dominic Thiem-Alexander Zverev clash on Sunday.

“You’ve seen over the years how crowds have driven some of the finals to insane levels,” Bob said in a chat on Monday. “I would’ve been interested to see how the crowds would’ve reacted to what we saw in the final yesterday. It was high drama. I was feeling the nerves for those guys, both going for their first Slam wins.”

The brothers themselves played in 20 Majors before they finally held the first of their record 16 Slam doubles titles at the 2003 French Open. The duo could thus relate to how Thiem, who’s done his fair share of waiting in the queue before winning his maiden singles title, felt. Now that the 27-year-old Austrian has got his first title, Mike believes expecting a change of guard after the dominance of the ‘Big Three’—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—is realistic.

“I think he (Thiem) is one of the hardest working guys on the tour. I mean watching him in the gym, he literally kills himself for hours and hours. And all that work finally paid off,” Mike said. “I think they both saw a huge opportunity with none of the ‘Big Three’ in there, but he’s a Grand Slam champion now and no one can take that away from him.

“This is maybe a changing of the guard. Now that he’s got that monkey off his back, I’m sure he’ll play a lot looser in Grand Slam finals. I don’t think he played his best match maybe because of all the weight of expectations. Now it releases all that pressure. The same thing happened with Bob and I—it took a few years for us to get that first Grand Slam but once we did, we found that formula. Everything becomes a little easier then.”


This unique US Open was also as much about the new men’s singles champion in six years as it was about the coming of age of Naomi Osaka, on and off the court.

The 22-year-old Japanese-American not only stamped her status as the future of women’s tennis with a new-found calmness and maturity in her game but also proved a role model with her activism over Black Lives Matter.

She won hearts and captured global attention by wearing seven different masks in each of her matches bearing the names of victims of racial injustice and police brutality in the US. Bob applauded her for standing up for what she truly believed in.

“She’s a great role model,” Bob said. “She stands up for what she believes in. She conducts herself great on the court and she has an exciting game to watch. A lot of kids can really look up to her. And she’s just getting started; she’s got many great years ahead of her. I think she’ll become more consistent now. And all the stuff she did with the activism and the Black Lives Matter, it was a strong message that she put out there. Massive respect for standing up for what she believes in.”

(Interview courtesy Sony Pictures Sports Network)

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