On Thursday, just five days ahead of the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals, Bob Bryan received the call. USA captain Mardy Fish had been advised not to travel with the team to Glasgow after contracting Covid-19, and he wanted Bryan to take his place on the bench.
Already travelling with the side as a coach as he had for the Qualifiers, Bryan took the news in his stride. He and Fish worked out a plan and he set about getting used to the idea he would be leading his nation at the Davis Cup Finals.
That was the second unexpected phone call of the week; the first was far more nerve-wracking. That same day, US Open organisers had invited his 10-year-old daughter Micaela to sing for Arthur Ashe Stadium at a ceremony to honour Bob and brother Mike Bryan ahead of the women’s singles quarter-finals.
For that, Bryan admits, it was harder to stay cool.
“She'd never done that song – it was America the Beautiful – and I didn't know if she could handle it. I was so nervous, I was nauseous. And I watched it… She blew me away.
“I'm still on a high right now. I was a little stunned – I can't believe it. Because she's out there by herself, singing a cappella, no backing track. She killed it, so I'm stoked.”
I was so nervous, I was nauseous. And I watched it… She blew me away. I'm still on a high right now
Bryan won’t quite be flying solo in Scotland, but Fish has made it clear to him that as the man in the Emirates Arena, he is in charge this week as USA takes on Great Britain, Netherlands and Kazakhstan.
“Mardy said run it the way you want to run it – you make the choices you want to make, and I'm here if you want to bounce ideas,” explained Bryan, who said texts and Zoom were keeping the captain in the loop. “He wants to give me some decision-making power so that I have a little bit more control while I’m here.
“Obviously, I’m honoured that he would consider me for the position. I had a lot of fun with the guys in Reno [at the Qualifiers] earlier in the year and got to see how Mardy does things and got to see things from a different perspective. I've always been a player, and it's exciting to have a chance to coach this great team, to be a part of it.”
Fish’s absence isn’t the only change to a USA side that looked rather different when nominations were initially posted before the US Open. A nasty fall ruled out John Isner as he recovers from the resulting wrist injury, while Frances Tiafoe’s stunning run to the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows has led to his withdrawal to recuperate.
Despite all that, USA still stands as a solid contender to emerge from Group D and book their spot in Malaga, something Bryan attributes both to the depth of talent in their ranks and the level of commitment shown to the competition.
“These players are really eager to represent their country and they look at it as a privilege and honour, not a burden,” said the 2007 Davis Cup champion, who has Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Jack Sock and Rajeev Ram, fresh from his US Open doubles triumph, at his disposal.
“We’ve got lots of firepower with Fritzy – he had a rough [US] Open for his standard, so he jumped right back on the court and he's been playing for two weeks straight. He’s feeling good.
“Tommy Paul has had a great summer, and Jack’s unique style always throws a wrinkle in the plans of any doubles team with some of the wild stuff that he does.”
We’ve got lots of firepower with Fritzy, Tommy Paul has had a great summer, and Jack always throws a wrinkle in the plans of any doubles team
Sock remains an option for singles play should the need arise – “I have no doubt he could step in there very easily,” Bryan insists – making this a quartet more than capable of booking a spot in Malaga, when Fish could resume his role.
For Bryan, the return to Glasgow – scene of his marathon encounter with Great Britain in 2015, which he and Mike won 9-7 in the fifth set – is a reminder of just what this competition is all about.
“Davis Cup, for me, these are the matches that I remember,” the 44-year-old said. “I played almost 1,200 matches, and I really remember these ones the most. These are the ones that stayed with me. It's such a big part of my life that I wanted to be here in this environment again.
“That five-setter, with captain [Jim] Courier on the bench, the atmosphere here was electric – I remember that song playing over and over, that Proclaimers song I will walk 500 Miles, it's still in my head!
“I think that's why it's back here, because it's such a successful venue for sport. I’m happy to get another opportunity to experience it.”