Thursday, July 05, 2012 8:36pm
The “Where Is He Now?” moment became a reality when Jeff Tarango walked into the Press Restaurant, came up to me and said hello. He had just finished providing commentary for the David Ferrer-Andy Roddick match on the Wimbledon Interactive network, and he was weary after the third round slugfest.
I have known him since he was an up and coming junior at the Kramer Club in Rolling Hills Estates and then later, as a member of the Boys’ Junior Davis Cup team. Tarango has always been a plucky player, who has made the most of his talent. He has always been very bright, and seldom missed an opportunity to express opinions. He attended Stanford where he was a three-time All-American, and led the team to two NCAA titles before turning pro in his junior year. During his 14-year career, he won two singles and 14 doubles titles. He was also a 12-time doubles finalist, the most significant of which was at Roland Garros where he teamed with Goran Ivaniševic in 1999.
Included in the Tarango recollections is a vivid 1995 flashback. While walking to a backcourt at the All England Lawn Tennis Club to watch his match against Alexander Mronz of Germany, just as I was about to reach the appropriate patch of lawn, a harassed, almost frightened Tarango, with his racquet bag and a towel slung over his shoulder, quickly moved toward me on his way to the locker room. Pursuing him was an un-Wimbledon horde. They were actually sprinting after him.
As tennis historians recall, it was his best and his worst showing in London. He had never gone beyond the first round in six previous attempts, but that year he defeated Andrei Medvedev, No. 15 in the world, to set up the third round contest with Mronz. Trailing 7-6, 3-1, he had several exchanges with chair umpire, Bruno Rebeuh, and ultimately received code violations. After the last one, he called for the Tournament Referee. When Alan Mills, who controlled matters from 1982 until 2005, didn’t appear, Tarango walked off the court. His subsequent default was Wimbledon shocking, but when his wife, at the time, Benedicte, who is French, slapped countryman Rebeuh twice in the face, the Tarango family became the scourge of The Championships.
For that scandalous behavior, he forfeited his tournament prize money, $63,000 in total (and still had to pay tax on the amount) and to top it off, was unable to play Wimbledon the following year. On his return, he told me, "I believe it was a mistake to walk off the court. It was a scary incident for me. The bad thing is that I have this stigma before my name."
Adding to the surreal history of Tarango’s 1995 Wimbledon, he, (and this is rarely mentioned), and partner Henrik Holm of Sweden received a default in their first round doubles match when Tim Henman, who was teamed with Jeremy Bates, struck a ball in anger after missing a shot that hit a ball girl, which resulted in the British tandem being defaulted. The entire escapade became textbook bizarre when it was pointed out that in 1989, Jimmy Arias, a former professional, signed an affidavit stating that Rebeuh was not always “completely unbiased”…which is exactly what Tarango had accused him of during that ill fated singles match.
In a follow-up story on September 17, 1995 in a Florida Sun Sentinel article by Charles Bricker, Arias said, in part, "…I felt as if Bruno did exactly what Jeff said he does. I don't think anyone pays him, but he gives the appearance of being friendly with some players.
"I'm not defending what Tarango did at Wimbledon. He acted like an idiot. None of what he did was right. But I think, at the same time, Bruno is not always completely unbiased."
In the 17 years since that incident, Tarango’s life has moved forward. He retired from the tour in 2003, and now he spends time coaching and doing commentary for a variety of television outlets. He was a member of the USTA Board of Directors, and has been involved with Davis Cup and United States Olympic (Governance) Committee work.
In February, at the 32nd International Tennis Federation Seniors World Team & Individual Championships, held in San Diego and organized by William (Bill) J. Kellogg, the District and the San Diego Sports Commission, Tarango was in the forefront of the action. He was member of the Men’s 40 Trabert Cup team that was a finalist to France. But, he evidenced his still formidable competitive skills when he downed Marcus Hilpert of The Netherlands 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the Men’s 40 singles final. Teaming with Gretchen Magers, he came up 6-1, 4-6, 10-7 short against Rick Leach and Tracie Currie in the mixed doubles title round. His singles success has earned him an ITF Men’s 40 ranking of No. 3 (as of the second week of Wimbledon).
He is now married to Jessica Leigh Balgrosky Tarango, and has two sons, Ace Colton Parker Balgrosky and Jesse Aleksandr Balgrosky. I still remember what he told me, returning to Wimbledon in 1997. "In some ways, it made me tougher,” he explained. “In some ways, it made me understand the world better.”
And with all the experiences that have filled his tennis life, Jeff Tarango is still making headway.
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