By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - Bob Bryan, who along with his twin brother Mike makes up the world's top-ranked doubles team, hates being separated from his young family during long tournaments so finds the creche at Wimbledon a godsend.
"One week's tough, two weeks is brutal, three weeks I just won't do it, so I have to either travel back to Miami or bring them with me," Bryan, 37, said of playing away from home for extended periods.
Bringing along Micaela, 3 1/2, Bobby Jr, 1 1/2 and his wife Michelle, who is expecting the couple's third child, requires, by Bryan's reckoning, at least six months advance planning for flights and hotels, packing 12 bags and being sure there is a grocery store around the corner from wherever they stay.
But for Bryan, and a growing number of other tennis players who are bringing their children on the tour, it is worth it.
"We're ultra competitive and the losses still hurt, but it does ease the pain when you walk off the court and see two kids run at you and tackle you right outside the player lounge," Bryan said after a practice session at Wimbledon.
Wimbledon, like the other main championships, is bending over backwards to cater to tennis players like Bryan, who travel with their families -- and the uptake is noticeable.
On any given day, there may be a table at the players' restaurant with two or three young mothers, their toddlers and a helpful coterie of grandparents sitting alongside. Players with children can also be spotted taking their toddlers to drop them off at the creche that Wimbledon provides, free of charge.
This year Wimbledon inaugurated its renovated Aorangi Pavilion, at the far end of the complex, near the practice courts and in the shadow of Henman Hill/Murray Mound, as a facility 100 percent dedicated to players, having formerly been shared with stewards.
The pavilion now contains two of Wimbledon's eight new ice baths -- which proved particularly popular during last week's blistering heat, a player restaurant and the renovated creche.
Access is strictly limited to players with children, but its popularity is attested by Bryan who said there were so many strollers at the entrance "it looks like a parking lot".
Richard Stoakes, Wimbledon's head of player liaison said the remodelling of Aorangi, and the improvements made to the creche, were simply a matter of keeping up with the changing demographics of professional tennis.
"Increasingly, if you look at the profiles, the ages of the players are getting older," he said. "You've got Roger (Federer) at 33, you've got a lot of players who are playing into their 30s, so they're playing into that time when they are having children."
Judy Murray, the Scottish coach whose son Andy won Wimbledon in 2013, said it made a huge difference to players to know that facilities like the creche were available.
"If you're there with your children and you want to go and watch your partner playing, you need to know that your children are safe," Murray said.
"It's not every player that has the money to employ an entourage of nannies -- the top ones can, but not the next level, so it's very important."
Bryan swears by the Wimbledon creche, and the people who run it.
"The teachers are so nice, they have the pictures Micaela did... they remember her name right when she walks in the door," Bryan said. "Micaela is crying to come back and play here."
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Clare Lovell)