Tarango hits roof, then his wife hits Wimbledon ump WIMBLEDON


WIMBLEDON, England -- Up on the podium, Jeff Tarango was talking about the day he quit his third-round match at Wimbledon, when he threw down two tennis balls and shouted at the chair umpire "You're the most corrupt official in the game!" before making the longest walk of his career -- away from Court 13 and through the crowds that couldn't quite believe what they had just seen.

And his wife, Benedicte Tarango, dressed in white, was listening and nodding her head yesterday. And when somebody asked her if it was true that she had stood by her man and actually slapped the chair umpire, Bruno Rebeuh of France, she started to talk and her eyes filled with tears.

"Yes, I do, and I don't think it's bad," said Benedicte Tarango, who is French and met her American-born husband at the French Open. "I think it's good, because this guy deserve a lesson at some point.

"I just try to slap him once, just to tell him that that is enough, you know, because Jeff cannot do it. If Jeff slaps him, he's out of the tennis tour. So I do it, because I think I should do it."

Yes, this really happened at Wimbledon, the day tennis turned into Wrestlemania X.

They're staging Wimbledon for the 109th time, and before yesterday, nobody had ever just up and quit in anger during the middle of a match.

John McEnroe didn't do it. Neither did Jimmy Connors.

But Tarango took a walk against a German named Alexander Mronz, whose previous claim to fame was that he was Steffi Graf's first boyfriend. And Tarango claimed that Rebeuh is known for "giving matches to particular players," including 1992 Olympic gold medalist Marc Rosset.

Rebeuh, through tournament officials, declined to comment.

"I will ask the ATP Tour to take sanctions against [Tarango]," Rosset said from his home in Switzerland.

Wimbledon was not amused. Tarango, 26, ranked No. 80 in the world, was defaulted from the tournament and faces what officials say is a "five-figure fine." And those officials are backing their man in the umpire's seat, Rebeuh.

"I mean, all I can say, is that what happened on the court was unfortunate," said tournament referee Alan Mills.

It all started in the fourth game of the second set, Mronz leading 7-6 (8-6), 2-1. Tarango was serving at 15-40 and smacked what appeared to be an ace that was called out by the linesmen. Rebeuh reversed the call in Tarango's favor, but said the point should be replayed.

That set off Tarango. He paced the court. He argued the call. He served again. Eventually, he yelled "Oh, shut up!" at the crowd and was was given a code violation warning by Rebeuh for audible obscenity.

Tarango also asked for a tournament supervisor. He disputed the call and the match, and finally, exasperated, said, "No, no, no, I am not playing anymore. This is it. I am not playing."

He went back to his chair and shouted at Rebeuh, "You're the most corrupt official in the game! You can't do that!"

And then he threw down the two tennis balls and walked right out of Wimbledon and into controversy. Ken Flach once quit a mixed doubles match at the U.S. Open. And McEnroe was tossed out of the Australian Open for saying something really horrid about an official's mother. And Tim Henman was bounced out of Wimbledon last week after he angrily smacked a ball that hit a ball girl.

But yesterday's performance -- both on the court and in the interview room -- was incredible.

Tarango rambled on during the news conference. He has a reputation for a short fuse, smashing rackets and yelling at officials. He once even pulled down his shorts in a match against Michael Chang in Tokyo.

"People always say that Jeff is psycho, that Jeff is a hothead, that Jeff is mean, and I'm not, you know, I'm a rational person," said Tarango. "I definitely have a little Latin in me. I'm an intellectual person who does not fly off the cuff without reason."

Tarango said that he heard through others as early as 1993 that Rebeuh had boasted of giving "friends" help during matches. He said he was prepared to go to court to prove his charges, and that he told Gilbert Ysern, a leading Internation al Tennis Federaton official, of the accusations. Tarango said that Ysern said if he didn't put the charges in writing, Rebeuh wouldn't umpire any of his matches. According to Tarango, he had avoided Rebeuh on court -- until yesterday.

And finally, when a supervisor other than Ysern showed up at Court 13, Tarango exploded.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of," said former tour player Brad Gilbert, who coaches Andre Agassi. "They'll suspend him for a year."

Agassi said: "I think it's a sad situation. Maybe Jeff should have taken an hour or so before he came into the press room. There is no reason to turn it into a circus."

Graf broke out laughing when asked about Benedicte Tarango's clash with the umpire.

"Well, she must have a lot of guts to do that," she said. "And she must like her husband very much. I don't think it's very appropriate. I mean, what should I say? I think she must be -- no, I don't want to say it -- maybe a little bit out of her mind for a couple of minutes."

The Tarangos, though, were sticking with each other, posing for pictures, giving joint interviews.

On the Fourth of July, they'll even celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

Asked why his wife slapped an official, Tarango shrugged his shoulders and said: "I don't know. She's French. I'm still learning the culture."

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