Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek defeated Bob and Mike Bryan 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, ending the brothers' bid to become the first doubles team to win the calendar Grand Slam since 1951.
The twins survived tests in the third round and quarterfinals but couldn't overcome the fourth-seeded Paes and Stepanek.
"As competitors, we hate to lose, and we knew what was riding on this match and the opportunity of what we could have accomplished," Bob said. "And then in one sense it's a little bit of a relief where you get to kind of exhale for the first time in a few months."
At 35, the Bryans are playing the best tennis of their careers. They won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year, and were looking to defend their U.S. Open title, which came on the heels of a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
"It's been a great 12 months," Bob said. "We would have never dreamed it would have been this sweet and we would have scraped out this many close matches. Today all that kind luck that's been on our side went against us. Those guys played a great match."
The twins joked about resting now before starting another run at the Grand Slam next year but confessed that it wasn't a realistic expectation, given the state of the men's doubles game. Between top singles players dropping into doubles every once in a while, and a strong group of doubles specialists who can win on any given day, the margin of error is too small for any guarantees.
"Realistically, it will probably never happen," Mike said. "The margins are just so fine in doubles. There are just too many great teams out there and too much can go wrong, and a lot has to go right to be in that position. So we gave it everything we had."
The match started cleanly for the Bryans, who took the first set with little drama and looked to have the measure on Stepanek's service games. They hit 14 winners and no unforced errors in the first set, but Paes began to heat up in the second set and the Americans struggled to respond.
"The holds [of serve] became tougher," Mike said. "I don't remember missing a first serve in the first set, and we were reeling off those games. Then they started clawing into our service games. When you're serving down break points and deuce games, it becomes a lot tougher and the pressure mounts. So that was probably the difference."
The Bryans' quest for the Grand Slam was a boon to doubles coverage at this year's U.S. Open. Three of their five matches were put on Arthur Ashe Stadium and televised nationally. The line for their one match at Louis Armstrong Stadium snaked around the grounds. Along with Serena and Venus Williams, who ousted the top-seeded Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci on Thursday to advance to the women's doubles semifinals, it's been a fantastic week for doubles.
Asked about the sting of the loss, Bob said: "It's tough, but I haven't seen my little girl yet," referring to his 1-year-old daughter, Micaela. "Once I see her smile, I'm sure I'll let this all go. There are bigger things in life. The family kind of comes first now for both of us. It's been good to have that balance."
"Micaela doesn't care," Mike chimed in.
"Yeah, she doesn't care," Bob replied. "She doesn't know what a calendar Grand Slam is yet."