Tennis Great Peter Fleming Talks Bryan Brothers, Federer and McEnroe Memories

Benjamin J. Block@BenjaminBlock21Correspondent IIFebruary 26, 2013

Peter Fleming (left) and John McEnroe (right)
Peter Fleming (left) and John McEnroe (right)

With the rare Davis Cup loss suffered by the Bryan Brothers earlier this month to the Brazilian team of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares, it's a good excuse to take a step back and evaluate the current state of doubles—among other tennis related topics.

As masterful a doubles player as McEnroe was and still is, he had help, and his name was Peter Fleming.

Fleming famously once said, "the best doubles pair in the world is John McEnroe and anyone," but it's safe to say that he knows a little something about the game too. 

Just as you would go to the doctor when you are sick, I went to see Fleming to talk a little Bryan Brothers, McEnroe, Federer and the lost art of the serve and volley.

Fleming recently reunited with McEnroe to become the Associate Director of McEnroe's Tennis Academy, and we talked court side at the Randall's Island location.

The man behind the 507-177 doubles record and 60 doubles titles, most of which were achieved with McEnroe as his partner, spoke candidly about the game then and now.

Benjamin J. Block: Did you hear about the Bryan Brothers' loss to the Brazilian team? What did you think?

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Peter Fleming: Yeah sure, it's difficult to go undefeated, you know? (chuckling) You play in different conditions, and as much as you want to win every match and as much as you're up for it, sometimes it just doesn't fall your way. I don't think it diminishes what they've achieved over the years in any way. 

BJB: What are your thoughts on the Bryan Brothers? 

PF: All you can do is beat everybody else. That's all you can do, and the Bryan's have done that for years, and so they're the best. I would think that's all that really needs to be said.

BJB: What would you preach to aspiring doubles players, any keys to success?

PF: Become as good a tennis player as you can be. Generally speaking, the better singles player you are, then the better your chances of becoming a great doubles player. There's no question about that.

It's difficult these days because the stars almost have to align for you to be successful in both singles and doubles, and because the guys make so much money now in singles, often they lose the motivation.

People don't realize that John and I won seven grand slams together. In six of those, he won the singles as well, so he played 13 days in a row in those six tournaments, and won every match—all 13. Other top players would say well that's impossible to do.  Maybe it is because this game is so physical right now, but I guarantee you that there were times when we didn't play, for instance at the French.

We never played doubles together at the French because he was worried about the physical ramifications of that, of it affecting his singles play. Looking back on it in hindsight,which is always 20/20, I think he might have had a better chance of winning the singles in one or two of those years if we had played doubles. It always sharpened up his game. His game was serve and volley and he improved by playing doubles.

I think some of those guys today who are top singles players and don't bother playing doubles could improve an aspect of their game that might help them in the singles game.

BJB: Specifically who?

PF: Lots of them, I don't really want to say any names because it's for them to decide. Roger Federer for instance, when he played Rafa, certainly could have used a serve-and-volley tactic, or it would have benefited him if he had been really sharp at that tactic. For several years he just never came to net, and when he tried to do it against Nadal, he wasn't as sharp as he could have been. Who knows, that might have been the difference in him beating Rafa in one or two finals.

BJB: Is serve and volley a lost art in the game?

PF: Don't get me wrong, it's really difficult to serve and volley because the strings have changed the game. It's not easy, I'm not trying to say we should go back to the game the way it was 30 years ago, but I still think that if you have a big serve, a serve-and-volley tactic every once in a while has to be a good thing.

BJB: Bryan Brothers in their prime and you and Mac in your prime, who wins that match?

PF: I have no interest in answering that question (laughing).

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.


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