Tennis doesn't need Tarango . . .

July 03, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Berating an official, accusing him of cheating, using profanity and then walking off the court at Wimbledon leads to the belief that Jeff Tarango needs desperately to be coached on the subject of public manners, tennis ethics and some personal matters that may require professional counseling. He has made himself an embarrassment to the game he tries to play.

Shortly after the Tarango tirade in England, his wife got in on the act, making it a total family embarrassment, by slapping the man her husband had ridiculed. Yes, Benedicte Tarango got physical with the umpire, one Bruno Rebeuh, who had occupied an officiating chair and was calling the shots.

The Tarangos, husband and wife, were into their own version of a temperamental tango at Wimbledon, the most exalted tennis championship in the world. Jeff walked out on the spectators, who had bought tickets to watch the matches, and his rival across the net, Alexander Mronz, of Germany.

It was a fit of infantile behavior. He threw down his tennis balls and screamed at the official, branding him as the "most corrupt official in the game." This is an accusation that the lords of tennis can not possibly minimize. We personally know a national tennis official who was once a "jail bird," a pick-pocket and check forger, but even he has never had to tolerate such an indignity as Tarango put upon Rebeuh in his public denunciation.

It should be duly noted that Jeffrey the Juvenile was losing to his opponent at the time and his withdrawal painted him for what he is -- a loser. His wife explained later the reason she took up the beat is because, ". . . if Jeff slaps him, he is out of the tennis tour. So I do it, because I think I should do it."

Tarango, once a standout player at Stanford but a virtual nonentity on the international scene, is rated 80th in the world rankings. His wife, born in France, decided, as Tammy Wynette reminded us in a country song, to stand by her man. That's why she upped and slapped the official.

The performance of the two flying-off-the handle Tarangos, which sounds like a high-wire act, doesn't do much for preserving the dignity and refinement of old Wimbledon, or the host All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. They turned the sedate setting into a circus.

At least Jeff didn't embarrass himself any further by dropping his pants, as happened last year in Tokyo when he lost to Michael Chang and engaged in his own side show by auditioning as a male stripper of sorts.

This time, he accused the Wimbledon official, Rebeuh, of showing preferential treatment to players he became friends with after he had "given [them] matches." How can Tarango possibly make such an inflammatory assertion? This is attacking the fiber of the game, the heart and soul of its character.

He insisted his source for such information came from two women, neither of whom he identified. Too bad he had to demean an official and thereby cast aspersions on a sport that is providing him a livelihood. Tennis doesn't need to be vilified in such a manner. What will happen next in the bizarre world of road shows?

Suppose this action by dear Benedicte, referred to as a French Spitfire by columnist George Vecsey of the New York Times, touches off a wave of repercussions? It sets what could be a dangerous precedent. Will other wives of athletes start pounding on officials? Will they do it with their pocketbooks, the heel of a shoe, a rolling pin, umbrella or a karate chop?

Say, hypothetically, if a baseball umpire calls a batter out on a controversial pitch, will his wife run on the field and take her best shot or wait until later, when the game is over, and blind-side the man as he leaves the ballpark? It might be they'll need to be TTC escorted away from the stadium by armed guards.

Sportswriters, announcers and official scorers also be could subjected to the same treatment from an annoyed player's wife who took exception to a written or spoken word. Furthermore, if an official scorer deprived her husband of what she thought was a clean single, and not an error, it could lead to a similar scenario of getting smacked around.

The Tarangos have introduced a new fear to sports . . . that of the "hit woman." Mrs. Tarango has proven again there's nothing so beautiful as tender togetherness.

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