Bryan brothers: How world’s best tennis duo ‘plucked’ their way to top

CNN  — 

You’d expect a tennis player to be good with their hands, but these boys take it to another level – when they’re not winning grand slams they’re in the music studio jamming for hours, much to their wives’ displeasure.

Bob and Mike Bryan, known worldwide as the Bryan brothers, are tennis’ most successful doubles pairing of all time with a record 106 titles, 16 of them grand slams. Before their gig for fans at California’s Indian Wells tournament, they told CNN’s Open Court about their music – from throwing ninja stars to jamming with pop celebrities.

“We get more nervous playing music gigs than tennis matches, that’s for sure,” reveals Mike, who plays drums and guitar. “We get a lot of great musicians to come out and back us. We’ve been doing it for five, six years.

“We feel like rock stars. People come out to see our music, which is a cool thing.”

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The Bryan brothers strike a new chord with fans
04:29 - Source: CNN

Born three minutes apart, the twins – who turn 37 this month – grew up with music from a young age, traveling around with their father’s band on tour.

“All his bandmates were our uncles,” says Bob, the family keyboardist. “Sleeping on stage behind the guitar amps, it was just part of our life. He played, I think, 180 gigs a year so we were just around it.”

Their father Wayne – a firm believer in early starts – made sure there were plenty of musical instruments around the home so that his kids could “just diddle” whenever they liked.

“Don’t wait until you’re eight, nine, 10 – the minute you can walk or hold yourself upright, get on that keyboard, get on those drums, get on that guitar, start hitting tennis balls,” Wayne, who plays guitar, tells CNN as he imitates tinkling the ivories.

“Don’t wait until later because I think there’s so much rapid development from three to six, you’re wasting your time.”

“We didn’t have a television in the house – I’m sorry CNN,” he jokes, “and we didn’t have video games. So their whole life was enjoying music, enjoying tennis, and enjoying school work.”

It certainly seems to have been a recipe for success – the brothers have won a combined $25 million on court – but it’s not about the money when it comes to music.

“We have dreams of being musicians after tennis, being rock stars. But it’s tough,” says Mike.

“We’ve definitely never made money playing music – our album cost us a little bit of money. We ordered a bunch of CDs and they didn’t sell out, we use them as Frisbees now.”

“We had 10,000 of them,” adds Bob. “They’re just ninja stars – we’re chucking them to anyone that wants a CD.

“We played 70 gigs in a couple of years. Good gigs, bad gigs, sound problems, we played in bars … Tennis crowds are very forgiving of the Bryan Brothers Band. They probably can’t believe that we can even play.”

As with many artists, their love of music transcends financial reward – and has even helped them with their tennis.

“It’s a great outlet, it’s helped our longevity on tour just to have that, to just lose yourself in something different because there’s a lot of pressure when you’re playing for points and money and traveling around the world, jet-lagged,” Mike says.

“The heart rate comes down and you forget that you’re about to play a grand slam final the next day.”

They also have fun with celebrities such as James Valentine from Maroon 5 and Jim Bogios from Counting Crows, who exchange jam sessions for tennis coaching in what Bob calls the “music tennis exchange program.”

Their tastes have developed a lot since they were young and playing “the oldies” with their father, often surprising crowds with their talent when they were only four or five years old.

“My dad would basically ask the crowd, ‘Is there anyone out there that can play?’ ” recalls Bob, who with wife Michelle has a growing band of their own after the birth of daughter Micaela – already an online star in her own right – in 2012 and Bobby Jnr. in 2013.

“We would raise our hands and my dad would say, ‘Who are these little guys?’ We’d climb up and Mike, he couldn’t even see over the drums. He’d say, ‘What do you guys want to play?’ And Mike would say ‘Louie Louie, key of A…’ and we’d just kick it in. We’d blow everyone’s mind.”

Tennis is renowned for its dedicated parents – with Judy Murray and Richard Williams becoming some of the most prominent personalities on the tour.

“This was actually sort of my dream, you know?” says Wayne, who coaches tennis along with wife Kathy – a former professional on the women’s circuit.

“I always played music and tennis and sports. Truth be told, my wife and I thought (the boys) were going to be the No. 1 doubles team in the world – and a lot of other people did. We saw this coming a long way off.

“But we didn’t push them into it. We showed them how great music can be, they sat with my band, and they enjoyed playing, they enjoyed the applause.

“What’s not to like? Music is a great thing to do – it brings people together, it’s good for the soul. Tennis brings people together, it’s good for the soul. To me it’s the best two things you can do, music and tennis.”

Victorious at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Sunday, the band of brothers clocked their 106th title – a win that would have been music to their ears.

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