WASHINGTON -- If he wasn't home stacking zzzzz's in his own bed for a change, you could forgive Bill Barber for thinking he was back in school battling old rivals in the Pac-10 Conference.
It started in the qualifying tournament leading up to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic over the weekend when, after winning a pair of matches on Saturday against guys with higher computer rankings, Bill went against the 56-man draw's second seed, Mark Knowles.
After being ranked either first or second in the Mid-Atlantic Region age groups while growing up in Gwynn Park, a Maryland suburb east of D.C., Barber matriculated to UCLA and worked his way up to playing No. 2 on the tennis team.
Knowles was the big gun for the Bruins, numero uno, and already has climbed to 171st on the computer list. Bill Barber currently is riding somewhere outside the first 500 as far as the rankings are concerned.
Bill won, 6-3, 6-4, and all he heard on the changeovers as the match swung in his direction was Knowles complaining: "Why didn't you ever play this way against Stanford [the best in the Pac-10 for several years now]?"
Barber's reply: "Hey, I was only one guy on the team. I didn't lose the match all by myself."
That's tennis these days, though, sort of an in-your-face proposition without the head butts and downright nastiness. Bill says, "I rather enjoy it. What it is is a lot of talking hoping you can get a guy off his concentration if he's going well."
After making the tourney field with his victory over Knowles, Barber drew Alex O'Brien as a first-round opponent yesterday, and it was as if the lads were back doing or dying for old State U. again.
O'Brien's a load. He was a four-time All-American at Stanford, an NCAA champ in both singles and doubles, which, together with the team title, made him the first college player ever to record the "triple crown."
"Let's just say he handled me in college," said Barber, who got a huge measure of revenge on this occasion with a 6-4, 6-4 triumph. O'Brien went well beyond words on the crossover, often relying on histrionics when a point or a call didn't go his way.
None of it had much of an effect on Bill, for, as the 6-8 siege gunner points out, "I was serving well and only once during the match did a feel any pressure from Alex. I was confident throughout that I could break his serve, even though I ended up doing it just once in each set.
"But I was ready in any case. I remember back in juniors when I got to [No.] 20 or 21 [nationally], he beat me. On a couple of occasions in that match, he went, uh, strange. After a while, you don't get bothered by all the byplay since you know it's strictly to get you out of your rhythm.
"Jimmy Connors, for instance, is probably the most hated guy on tour because he always says to guys, 'Here I am a 40-year-old and I'm still kicking your rump.' "
Then, too, Bill Barber, whose dad Bill has been chief referee for the Rock Creek Park tourney for years, remembers the days when he was ballboying the matches: "It was the same then, guys talking.
"I played Jimmy Arias in qualifying here a while back and I told him I was a ballboy for one of his matches years before. I guess he thought I was trying to get on him. I won a couple of points and he hollered, 'Who is this guy? His father's in the chair and he's running the place.' "
With the best of the west (1992 division) out of the way, Barber next goes against Jonathan Stark. "Another Stanford guy," he muttered. "Good all-around player."
. But so were Knowles and O'Brien. Maybe there's something to this home-court advantage after all, although Bill admits he hasn't been around enough lately to get reaccustomed to the heat here.