-- With scant fanfare, twins Bob and Mike Bryan have been slogging away on the side courts of Roland Garros this past week to redeem the reputation of American men on European clay. But the brothers were stopped short of realizing their goal Saturday, getting edged by Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Max Mirnyi of Belarus in the men's doubles of the French Open, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
The Bryans, who played two seasons for Stanford, won the French Open doubles title in 2003 without dropping a set. Saturday's match marked their fifth Grand Slam final and their second this year, having finished as runners-up at the Australian Open.
They came out blazing, breaking serve with ease, against Bjorkman and Mirnyi, who started playing together this season.
But they struggled in the second set and never regained the edge after their match was halted briefly by rain.
"We usually close down matches [after winning the first set]," Bob said. "We got a couple of breaks early, but we might have wasted all our breaks in the first set. We could have used some more later."
It's almost impossible to tell the identical twins apart once they put down their rackets. Bob plays left-handed; Mike is right-handed. Off the court there's little to distinguish them. So it was a stroke of luck, at least for reporters charged with keeping their comments straight, that they showed up for their post-match interview wearing different baseball caps. Bob sported an Angels cap, bill pointed forward; Mike, a Yankees cap, worn backward.
Though disappointed by the loss, their first to Bjorkman-Mirnyi, they were in a jovial mood, eager to talk about the issues of the day -- from plans to jazz up interest in doubles by tinkering with its format from the dazzling emergence of Spain's Rafael Nadal, who faces unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina in Sunday's men's final.
As for what's ailing doubles, the Bryans think nothing's wrong with the game that more aggressive promotion couldn't solve. They've heard snippets of proposals to tweak the game, such as paring sets from their traditional six games to four. And they think it's foolhardy.
"It would kill some of the respect for doubles," Mike said. "Fans are not going to take it seriously."
As for Nadal, the 19-year-old Spanish phenom, they're both believers. As members of the U.S. Davis Cup team, the Bryans saw Nadal in his coming-out party last December in Seville, where he led Spain to an upset of the U.S. squad, dispatching American Andy Roddick with ease.
"We thought the guy was just zoning!" Bob said. "He was out of his mind. But he's just a monster with his confidence now!"