The way Julian Barham and Darren Yates have compiled a 15-1 record as a doubles team this season is really no accident at all. It's just that they, well . . . keep having accidents.
At first, it was a source of amusement among their teammates. Never mind the fact that it's been giving UC Irvine tennis Coach Greg Patton nightmares.
But, now it seems the more Barham and Yates try to stay injury-free, the worse their lot.
This month's list of injuries sounds more suited to a football team rather than a tennis team.
Patton doesn't mince any words when talking about Barham and Yates.
"They are like Laurel and Hardy," he said. "Or, we are like the Three Stooges and I'm Moe, just trying to stay away from the fray."
Here is what he's referring to:
--On Jan. 30, the Anteaters were coming off one of their biggest victories. Irvine, ranked No. 22, had upset No. 6 Stanford. Patton's elation evaporated when Yates promptly slammed a car door on Barham's hand that evening.
"I started yelling at him to open the door," Barham said. "After laughing, he opened the door."
Said Yates: "Yeah, I guess it looks real great in a headline: "So and So Slams Door on Partner's Hand."
--On Feb. 6, the two were en route to a quarterfinal match at the National Indoors in Richmond, Va. Patton had warned them before they left California: "Don't get in any accidents." Well, they did.
This time, Barham was driving a car loaned to them from their housing host. He was driving about 45 miles per hour down an icy road when a woman pulled in front of them and stopped in an intersection.
"We just slid into her," Barham said. "And we were just one block from the tennis courts."
After completing a 40-minute police report, the two went to their match and just made it on time. Neither player, nor the woman suffered any injuries.
"She was really flipped out," Yates said of the 76-year old woman. "She didn't know what was going on, how old she was . . . what her insurance company was."
Barham said he was so shaken, he had problems trying to keep the ball in play during the warmup with Greg Van Emburgh and Rick Benson from Kentucky.
"I told them, 'Hey, I got in an accident,' " he said. "And they probably thought, 'Yeah, we'll hit it to him, he's shook up.' "
Shook up, yes. But not that shook up.
Barham and Yates, still unranked, upset Van Emburgh and Benson, the country's fifth-ranked doubles team. You might say it saved them from the wrath of Patton.
"They were afraid to talk to me on the phone," Patton said. "So then our assistant coach got on the phone and said, 'I have some good news and bad news.' I told him, 'Don't tell me they got in an accident.' "
It was nothing new for Yates, who has been involved in three car accidents. He doesn't drive anymore. The only thing different for Barham and Yates was that neither player got hurt. Barham, a senior, has suffered bone bruises on his feet, a pulled thigh muscle, a pulled hamstring and mononucleosis at Irvine. Yates, a junior, has been bothered by a sore tendon in his left shoulder. After the Stanford match, he couldn't lift him arm above his head.
Despite the ailments, the two were undefeated until last Saturday. They lost to the country's No. 1 doubles team, Royce Deppe and Charles Beckman of Texas, 7-6, 6-3. Earlier, they had defeated Ken Diller and Jan Sandberg of South Carolina, ranked No. 15 in the nation. When Irvine travels to play No. 3-ranked UCLA today, Yates and Barham are expected to face Dan Nahirny and Patrick Galbraith, who are rated No. 6.
Provided they remain healthy, Barham and Yates think they are among the country's top four doubles teams. This much is certain, they'll continue to give Patton fits.
"If I could just put these guys in a bubble, then they wouldn't get hurt," Patton said. "They could study and eat in there and come out for their matches."
While Patton's instruction has rubbed off on Yates and Barham, so has his gift of gab.
"Coach is like a protective father," Barham said. "And we are the rebellious children."
Said Yates: "Coach tries to treat us like it's a dictatorship. But we're very close to overthrowing the government."