NEW YORK — Mike Bryan said he would have played with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Bob Bryan with either Venus Williams or CoCo Vandeweghe in mixed doubles if the Bryan brothers had not withdrawn from the Rio Olympics.
The Bryans, who teamed to win doubles gold at London 2012, pulled out six days before the Rio Opening Ceremony, saying they would have loved to compete but making their family’s health “our top priority” in a social media statement.
Before coming to the decision, they reached out to other players for advice, including Brazilian doubles specialists Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares.
Bob Bryan said last week that Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” their decision not to play in Rio. There have been no known Zika cases stemming from the Olympics, according to the World Health Organization.
“I didn’t expect there to be people just getting eaten alive by mosquitoes,” Bob Bryan said at the U.S. Open, where the brothers were scheduled to play in the quarterfinals Tuesday. “I’ve had great reports from players that went there. I’ve had so-so reports. Sometimes it’s based on how you perform that leaves that lasting impression. If you have a good performance, you’re like, oh this is awesome. If you lose in the first round, you’re like, all right, it sucked down there.”
Before the Bryans pulled out, it wasn’t publicly known what the U.S. Olympic mixed doubles teams would be. National federations don’t have to submit proposed teams until during the Games.
Mixed doubles returned to the Olympic program in 2012 for the first time since 1924. In 2012, both Bryans played mixed. Bob Bryan earned bronze with Lisa Raymond, while Mike Bryan lost in the first round with Liezel Huber.
Raymond retired between London and Rio, while Huber did not qualify for this year’s U.S. Olympic team. That swung the door open wider for the Williams sisters to make their Olympic mixed doubles debuts in Rio.
The Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters are two of three duos to complete the career doubles Golden Slam together, along with Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
Had the Bryan brothers and Williams sisters played together in Rio, and faced each other like the eventual U.S. mixed teams did (for gold), it would have been the greatest collection of U.S. tennis success playing in one match in history.
The Bryans’ pre-Rio mixed doubles picks were familiar. Mike Bryan and Mattek-Sands won the 2015 French Open. Bob Bryan and Venus Williams reached the 2006 Wimbledon final. Bob Bryan also lost in the 2012 French Open first round with Serena Williams.
U.S. doubles teams were strong in Rio even through the Bryans withdrew and the Williams sisters lost in the first round.
Steve Johnson and Jack Sock took bronze, while Mattek-Sands and Sock beat Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram in the mixed gold-medal match. The U.S. earned zero singles medals.
The Bryans have not ruled out or committed to a run for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which would be their fourth Games. They would each be 42 years old.
“We’re not that sprightly anymore,” Mike Bryan said on SI Now last week. “But doubles, you can keep going. It’s not that physical on the body.”
MORE: Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ sceneFollow @nzaccardi