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Double the players, but nowhere near as much recognition . . .

Tennis history is on the verge of being made at the US Open, which begins on Monday, yet few observers are aware of it.

Bob, left, and Mike Bryan celebrate victory in the 2012 US Open men's doubles against Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Bob, left, and Mike Bryan celebrate victory in the 2012 US Open men's doubles against Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Bob and Mike Bryan are just one short of a century of career titles as a doubles team. If they were to be the last men standing in New York in two weeks' time, it would be their 100th title together and would reinforce their status as the best doubles players ever to play the game.

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The 36-year-old identical twins have won everything there is to win in their sport: they have held a golden grand slam - all four grand slam titles as well as the Olympic title simultaneously - among a total of 15 slams and three World Tour finals titles; they have won the Davis Cup with America and are the world No.1-ranked pair. If marketing experts had been tasked with creating a doubles pair who would capture the imagination of the public, they could not have done better than the Bryan brothers, yet the Americans are barely known outside of the tennis sphere.

When you consider the diversity of the appeal of singles champions such as Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Rafa Nadal, it is strange that the Bryan twins are just about anonymous, particularly in light of their achievements. Mike Bryan admits that "we can go out to dinner and walk through airports without any bother".

Their standing as the most successful doubles team to have stepped on to a tennis court is hardly in dispute: the second most successful pairing, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, won 61 tour titles together, a figure dwarfed by the Bryans' prolific haul.

Yet the reason for the brothers' anonymity is simple: doubles is so lowly regarded by the public in comparison to singles that, regardless of the achievements of any doubles player, he or she will not receive anywhere close to the recognition that their singles-playing counterparts have lavished upon them.

In the past, great singles players have also taken to the doubles court: John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova are legends of the singles game but are also held in the highest regard as doubles players. Nowadays, it is rare, to say the least, to see leading singles players setting foot on a doubles court.

It is not unheard of in the women's game, though. Italy's Sara Errani is currently ranked 14th in the world in women's singles and tops the doubles ranking yet she is in the minority of players who regularly plays both disciplines. At the top of the men's game, it is unheard of that a player will play both singles and doubles regularly. The five-set format at the men's grand slams makes playing both events hugely demanding, particularly for  those with aspirations of winning the singles crown.

A big part of the problem is that singles players are regarded as so overwhelmingly superior that doubles specialists are viewed as failed singles players. That the Williams sisters can enter the doubles at a grand slam, without having played competitive doubles all season, and win the title comfortably - they have done so numerous times - does little to dispel this belief. Similarly, that Federer and Stan Wawrinka can play almost no doubles together yet win gold at the 2008 Olympic Games strengthens the belief that the only reason the established doubles players win so many titles is because the best players choose to focus on singles.

McEnroe, who won 10 grand slam doubles titles, said last year: "Most [modern-day] doubles players, I hate to say, are the slow guys who were not quick enough to play singles. Would the Bryan brothers have made it as singles players? No. What do you think they are playing doubles for?" He voiced the opinion of many with this view.

Yet, it does a disservice to the doubles game, and the achievements of the Bryan brothers. No, doubles does not have the one-on-one battle that a singles contest boasts, and neither do doubles matches test the power, speed or endurance of a player in the way that a singles match will. But it has its own attractive features; it is a game of touch, subtlety and skill at the net which singles is not. In a sport in which a range of styles is becoming less and less prevalent, doubles can provide a welcome variation.

That is why, if the Bryan twins win their 100th tour title at Flushing Meadows in a fortnight's time, they should be heartily applauded. They may not be up against the very best players on the circuit and they may not be as physically exceptional as their singles counterparts, but to dominate so completely, and for such a length of time, as the Bryans have, deserves to be recognised.

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