A quiet day of tennis turned bizarre Saturday, when American Jeff Tarango was defaulted after walking off a court during his third-round singles match, then later accused an umpire of fixing matches for other players.
In a remarkable postmatch news conference, Tarango, of Manhattan Beach, made several serious and at times rambling accusations against chair umpire Bruno Rebeuh of France, whom Tarango called “corrupt.” In another strange twist, Tarango’s wife caught up to Rebeuh after the match, confronted him and slapped him.
Wimbledon officials say it is the first time any player has walked off the court during a match in the tournament’s 109-year history. Investigations into Tarango’s behavior and his accusations were begun Saturday.
The match was awarded to Alexander Mronz of Germany, who was ahead, 7-6 (8-6), 3-1, when Tarango was defaulted.
The incident began as Tarango, ranked No. 79, was serving at break point in the fourth game of the second set.
Tarango served what the linesman called a fault, and the chair umpire overruled and called a let. Tarango thought it had been an ace. Tarango went to the chair and began to argue the call, then returned to the service line for the second serve.
The crowd began to heckle Tarango. The English crowd had been heckling him since his part in the default of a British player in the first round of doubles. Tarango played the match in which Tim Henman of Great Britain accidentally hit a ball girl with a ball. In a move that angered fans, Tarango had strenuously argued with the umpire that Henman be defaulted, which he was.
When Tarango tried to serve again in Saturday’s match, the crowd let loose with whistles and hoots. Tarango half-turned to the crowd and said, “Oh, shut up!”
Rebeuh announced, “Code violation, audible obscenity, Mr. Tarango.”
Tarango stalked to the chair and demanded Rebeuh call the supervisor, then sat down on a chair, saying, “No, no, no, I’m not playing anymore.” At first Rebeuh refused, then called referee supervisor Stefan Fransson. Fransson told Tarango to continue playing.
Tarango continued arguing both the call and the penalty, then raised his arm and pointed to Rebeuh and said, “You are the most corrupt official in the game. You can’t do that.”
Rebeuh responded by assessing Tarango a point penalty for verbal abuse, which meant Tarango lost the game.
Tarango appeared stunned, threw down two balls and shouted, “That’s it. No way. That’s it.”
To the astonishment of all watching, Tarango gathered up his rackets and walked off the court.
Moments later, Rebeuh defaulted Tarango for leaving the court without permission. Tarango was also defaulted from his mixed doubles match, which was to follow on the same court.
Wimbledon’s usually protective press stewards allowed Tarango to meet reporters in what became a raucous and often-bewildering news conference. Tarango, appearing calm and lucid, outlined a conspiracy in which he says Rebeuh shows favor to certain players in return for their friendship. He claimed to gain this information from two women who alleged Rebeuh was trying to pick them up at a party.
Tarango named Olympic champion Marc Rosset of Switzerland as one of the favored players. Rosset, who was seeded 10th here before losing last week, told a Swiss journalist that he would ask the ATP to sanction Tarango.
Tarango said he told referee supervisor Gilbert Yserne of his problems with Rebeuh many times and promised he would provide witnesses and sworn statements regarding Rebeuh’s favoritism.
Tournament referee Alan Mills said he had never heard the accusations.
Rebeuh was not available for comment, but Bill Babcock, administrator of the Grand Slam Committee of the International Tennis Federation, said: “These are serious statements made against Bruno. I think he has some powerful rights that he needs to examine, and decide what to do.”
Tarango said he regretted walking off the court but said, “I don’t feel that I should be pushed around for my whole life and let people take advantage of me. I just felt that I was backed into a corner and that I had no recourse for defending myself.”
Tarango’s French wife, Benedicte, attended the news conference and angrily defended striking Rebeuh.
“Yes, and I don’t think it’s bad,” she said. “I think it’s good, because this guy deserves a lesson at some point. He can do whatever he wants because he’s in the chair. It’s just not fair.”
Tarango said he was glad his wife slapped the umpire. Asked his reaction, Tarango said, “Well, you know, women are emotional.”
Tarango is expected to be fined, possibly in the five-figure range, although the incident is unprecedented. In the heaviest fine ever, Jimmy Connors walked out at the Lipton Championships in 1986 and was fined $20,000.
One of Tarango’s complaints was that he was singled out for excessive fines.
“I’ve been getting fined irregularly for quite a while now,” he said. “People always say, ‘Jeff is psycho, Jeff is a hothead, Jeff is mean,’ and I’m not. I’m a very rational person.”
Tarango, 26, turned pro after his junior year at Stanford. His official biography lists his interests as bridge, fishing and philosophy. Tarango was a scholar-athlete award winner at Stanford and describes himself as an intellectual.
He’s certainly different. When an umpire posed the routine “Any questions?” of the players before his doubles match on Friday, Tarango responded, “Yes. Is there a God?”
Tarango has a history of colorful behavior. Upset at a line call that cost him a match during a clay-court tournament in Portugal, Tarango retrieved a camera from his equipment bag and took a photograph of the mark his ball had made on the court.
Tarango was fined $3,000 during a match against Michael Chang in Tokyo last year, when he dropped his shorts to his ankles and waddled to his chair for a changeover.
Former Stanford player and sometime hothead John McEnroe, commenting on NBC, said: “Jeff needs to take a vacation. A long vacation.”