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Whacked Out At Wimbledon Tarango Glad Wife Slapped ‘Corrupt’ Ump

Steve Wilstein Associated Press

Scandal shook the citadel of civility in sports Saturday when an American player accused a Wimbledon umpire of corruption, stalked off court, then thanked his wife for slapping the umpire on the cheek.

Nothing like this ever happened at Wimbledon or anywhere else in the tennis world. And after much harrumphing, redfaced officials announced “we’re going to do a lot of investigating” of Jeff Tarango’s charges that French umpire Bruno Rebeuh cheated for certain players - among them Olympic champion Marc Rosset.

It hardly seemed to matter that Andre Agassi and Boris Becker struggled through four-set matches before reaching the fourth round, or that Steffi Graf, Jana Novotna and Lindsay Davenport also won.

The buzz was all about Tarango, a former NCAA champion and scholar athlete at Stanford who had lost in the first round in all six of his previous trips to Wimbledon.

An argument over a serve by Tarango, and a warning for shouting “shut up” to the crowd, escalated into a tirade in which he screamed to Rebeuh, “You’re the most corrupt official in the game and you can’t do that!”

To which Rebeuh responded: “Code violation, verbal abuse, point penalty Mr. Tarango.”

“No way! That’s it. I quit,” Tarango yelled as he flung away two balls, grabbed his rackets and fled the court, abandoning his match while trailing 7-6 (8-6), 3-1 against Alexander Mronz and being defaulted from the tournament - including mixed doubles.

But that was far from the end of the issue. Tarango’s French wife, Benedicte, caught up with Rebeuh, berated him for being unfair, and slapped him in the face.

“If Jeff slaps him, he’s out of the tennis tour, so I do it, because I think I should do it,” she said. “Somebody should defend him at some point.”

Tarango was proud of his wife for standing up for him. “I’m glad you did that,” Tarango said, “without me telling you beforehand.”

The slap and the match aside, Tarango leveled serious charges against Rebeuh, a highly respected International Tennis Federation official and supervisor at the French Open. The whole affair could lead to legal action by Rebeuh against Tarango, Wimbledon referee Alan Mills said, and a “five-figure” fine.

“That is so serious, the statements that are made against Bruno … that there won’t be a comment from him during these championships,” said Bill Babcock, administrator of the Grand Slam committee for the ITF.

Tarango claimed that in October 1993, he was told by two women at a tournament in Toulouse, France, that Rebeuh, “after having drinks at the courts, told them that he was friends with a few players, very good friends, after he gave them matches.”

Tarango said he relayed the information to a tournament official, then stopped thinking about it.

“Then he was in the chair against me, against a player who I felt he gave the match to, and so I went to the supervisor and told him that I did not think he should be officiating in the chair and I told him the story,” Tarango said.

“It was taken to a higher-up official, and they said that they would investigate into it. But the person was his best friend, and they didn’t really go into it much. But they agreed that he would never be in my chair again if I didn’t put things in writing.”

That supervisor, Tarango said, was Gilbert Ysern of France, who was on Court 13 at the start of the match Saturday against Mronz. Ysern wasn’t assigned to that court, though, and left a short time later. Tarango asked for Ysern when the arguments with Rebeuh heated up, but another supervisor, Stefan Fransson, came out instead and didn’t intervene on Tarango’s behalf.

“I told him of the two decisions that (Rebeuh) had made against me, and that he had reason to be biased against me, and that I wanted him changed,” Tarango said. “I felt that it was a serious enough issue where they could change the chair umpire. … It was one of the biggest matches in my life.”

Fransson declined to make the change, and Tarango later made it clear that he was charging Rebeuh outright with throwing matches on behalf of his friends.

“I’m saying that that particular umpire has been known by, not just myself, but by a few other people … to give matches to particular players, and I don’t think it’s right,” Tarango said. “I don’t think he should be working.”

Tarango did not blame Mronz for what happened Saturday, but said he was certain Rebeuh had helped Rosset win in the past.

“Marc Rosset, for sure,” Tarango said. “I’m afraid that I will probably never hear the end of this, but that’s what I have definite witnesses to, and that I can substantiate under oath.

“I don’t know the exact matches. I just know that (Rebeuh’s) direct quote was that ‘Marc Rosset is a very, very good personal friend of mine, ever since I have given him matches.’ And he then said that, ‘Other players’ - he didn’t give any other names - ‘are also my friends because of the same reason.’ “

Ever since his days at Stanford, Tarango has had a reputation for being a temperamental player. His pro career has been filled with fines for code violations.

“I’ve been getting fined irregularly for quite a while now, and I’m getting fined the maximum for things that people are getting fined the minimum for, and the fine situation is hitting a nerve,” he said. “For someone to fine me for ‘shut up’ at a Grand Slam event, for people to always say that Jeff is psycho, that Jeff is a hot head, that Jeff is mean … I’m not. I’m a very rational person. I definitely have a little Latin in me, but I’m an intellectual person who does not fly off the cuff without reason.”

Tarango’s charges shocked players, though some were amused by his wife’s attack on the umpire.

“She must have a lot of guts to do that, and she must like her husband very much,” Steffi Graf said with a smile before turning serious. “I don’t think it’s very appropriate. I think she must be - no, I don’t want to say it - maybe a little out of her mind for a couple of minutes.”

Brad Gilbert, a former player and Agassi’s coach, watched Tarango’s outburst with disdain.

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever saw,” Gilbert said. “He’s finished. They’ll ban him for a year.”

John McEnroe was as astonished as anyone by Tarango.

“He may be in for a big vacation,” McEnroe said.

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