NEW YORK -- There have been some excruciatingly close calls along the way.
Bob and Mike Bryan have now won 32 consecutive doubles matches in the five biggest tournaments -- the four Grand Slams, plus the Olympics -- over the past 13 months, but there were a number of dark and dubious moments.
We mention this because the Bryans again lived dangerously on Sunday. They were down a set and a break to Canadians Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in their third-round match when they made a desperate move. They switched sides for returning serves; Mike moved to deuce, while Bob took the ad court. It's something they don't practice, so it was a risky play.
"It was Bob's idea," said Mike. "He's like, 'You want to switch?' It's a pretty big deal. I have only taken a few deuce court returns in the last three, four years."
But one of the good things that comes with habitually flirting with disaster is the development of a certain steeliness in those pressure-packed situations. The Bryans did not succumb to the hysteria and eventually won 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-2.
And so, they are into the quarterfinals here, on track to collect their fifth consecutive Grand Slam doubles title and a calendar-year Slam that hasn't been achieved in doubles in 62 years.
"There's not a lot of room to wiggle in doubles," said Bob Bryan. "The margins are so small. There are 16 teams that could sneak through and win this tournament."
Added Mike, "If singles went down to two and three sets, probably wouldn't see the Big Four always in the semis or quarters. You'd see a lot more upsets and players that have a chance to win Slams."
Leander Paes knows all about overcoming hysteria in big moments. The 40-year-old has won seven Grand Slam doubles, to go with six in mixed doubles. If he and his partner, Radek Stepanek, get that far (they won their third-round match Sunday), and the Bryans win their next match, they would meet in the semifinals.
"It couldn't happen to two more deserving guys," Paes said on Saturday, sitting in the players' garden near the President's Gate. "For me, what the Bryan brothers stand for is hard work. Personally, for me, I've been around a long time. I wish them the best of luck."
Paes is one of the few people on earth who truly understands what the Bryans are feeling. In 1999, he and partner Mahesh Bhupathi reached the final of all four majors, winning the French Open and Wimbledon.
"Obviously, that's every athlete's dream to win all four in the same year," Paes said. "We were probably two games away. In the Australian Open final we lost a tight one in five sets. And at the US Open that year we lost in a first-set tiebreaker. And then 4-6 in the second, right?"
It happened 14 years ago, but Paes had it exactly right. Sebastien Lareau and Alex O'Brien ran off with what would have been Paes and Bhupathi's third major of the year. The Aussie Open, which went to Jonas Bjorkman and Patrick Rafter (4-6 in the fifth), was within reach, too.
The key decision for Paes was giving up singles before the 1999 season to focus on doubles.
"At that point in Indian sport, we were never ever No. 1 in the world in anything," Paes said. "Coming from a family of Olympians, I always wanted to prove we could be world-beaters. The hard work really paid off, the camaraderie, the workload, the practice. The fastidiousness in our training system paid off in 1999."
The Bryans, too, began their careers as dual citizens in singles and doubles. But gradually, they, too, played fewer singles matches. After 2003, Bob played three singles matches and quit entirely in 2010. Mike stepped off for good in 2004.
Although Pospisil is a young, viable singles player -- he's ranked No. 40 -- Nestor is a doubles lifer. He turns 41 in three days and, toward the end of the match, as John McEnroe said on CBS, he was starting to look his age. The Bryans broke his last four service games. Switching sides for the returns was the difference.
"We're not very comfortable with our second shots," Mike said. "We're not used to poaching with our backhand volleys in the middle. But when you're desperate, you kind of have nothing to lose just because we didn't have much hope the other way."
This was Nestor's 53rd match against the Bryans -- and he and a variety of partners now trail the brothers, 27-26.
Paes, who has had his share of wins over the brothers, hopes to see them in the semifinals.
"They're in my half of the draw," he said, laughing. "So I'm going to go after them with every single thing I've got. Then they will have earned it. Because that's the beauty of what they do. They put in the time, they play hard and all of us are going to go out there and go at them very hard.
"Because if they, hopefully, do win -- and I wish them really the best of luck, it will be well deserved if they do."