Sept. 4, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
– They look and dress alike, poke fun at each other, cover the court like kudzu and love every minute doing it. And yet the world’s greatest tennis doubles team – Bob and Mike Bryan – has so little on Georgia Tech’s Juan Spir and Kevin King.
Sure, the Bryans beat Spir and King 6-4, 6-4 in a recent exhibition match, and they’ve tied the open era record with 11 Grand Slam titles, but whadya expect?
The Bryans have been professionals for 13 years. Spir and King are in college.
That doesn’t mean Spir and King, who last month spent about 10 days in his partner’s hometown of Medellin, Colombia, can’t one day be like Mike and Bob – even if they don’t really look alike.
“We got to play a full match; it was really fun . . . it was a high-level match,” Spir said. “We really got to learn from the experience, and see what are the small differences that make them such a good team, maybe the best team in the world.
“I really felt that there is not that big a difference in the strokes. We all have big serves and good volleys, but their consistency . . . for how long can you do that? How many matches in a row can you do that?”
The Bryans’ consistency melted away last week in the U.S. Open, where they were upset in the first round. That was the first time in 10 years the world’s top-ranked doubles team fell in the first round of a major.
King, a senior, and Spir, a junior, have a start on the big-time.
They were 34-11 last season for Tech, including 11-5 against ranked opponents. They really put it together at the very end of the year, upsetting several of the nation’s top-ranked college duos – including the No. 1 team from Tennessee – on the way to the NCAA semifinals.
When they hooked up early last month in Colombia, it was for King both a cultural expedition and a chance to grow the partnership the two formed on The Flats.
“We were just talking about it last semester, and I thought it would be a good time to take a vacation,” King said. “I just decided to book the ticket, and I had a great experience. I got to play on red clay for the first time, which was a good experience. We practiced a lot, played quite a bit.”
Tennis was only the half of it. King, who hails from Peachtree City, saw another world of sorts. Spir found himself playing tour guide, and the list of sights went beyond geographical points to include cultural differences from the U.S.
“I always say to the guys that they have to come to my country,” Spir said. “We joked around. He did it. He got to see where I am from. Every day he tried food he never tried before and . . . he saw how family is important in Colombia.
“On a daily basis, I get to see my grandmother and my grandfather, my aunt, my cousins, my dad. We get together all the time.”
At times, King and Spir play like brothers on the court. They are not unlike the Bryans in that regard.
“They are the best team in the world so that was a great experience,” King said. “Their consistency is what separates them. Being able to do it over and over is what separates them.”