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Tarango harangue casts pall over all

Scandal shook the citadel of civility in sports Saturday when an American player accused a Wimbledon umpire of corruption, stalked off court, and 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, red-faced 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 about Tarango, a former NCAA champion from Stanford who had lost in the first round in six previous Wimbledons.

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 at 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. Tarango was defaulted from the tournament _ including mixed doubles.

But that was not the end of it. Tarango's 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 leveled serious charges against Rebeuh, a highly respected International Tennis Federation official and supervisor at the French Open.

Tarango said that in October 1993 he was told by two women he knew at a tournament in 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."

There were awkward moments for Agassi during his match as well. He lost a set for the first time in the tournament but outlasted David Wheaton 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Agassi, the top seed, was glad to escape with a win.

"I got through a relatively tough opponent," Agassi said. "I can't think of a more dangerous player than David on a surface like this. We played six times before today, and we were 3-3. So I had my hands full, and I got through it."

Davenport wore a coat against the cool weather during changeovers during her 6-7 (10-8), 6-3, 6-2 victory over Christina Singer.

The weather gave the opportunity to judge the effect of the softer balls designed to slow down the men's game. On Centre Court, where the temperature was in the 70s after Friday's record 106.5, Becker's first serve was returned repeatedly by Jan Siermerink, who is ranked 52nd. Becker hit only eight aces, compared with 29 over his first two matches.

Monday, Becker will play 6-foot-8 Dick Norman, the "lucky loser" _ the highest-ranking player to lose in the last round of the qualifiers, but who made it into the tournament by default.

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