Tennis: 'Professional' Muster less than amused at being Tarangoed

Grace and elegance have their place on Court Suzanne Lenglen as the French championships mark a centenary of women's tennis, but not to the exclusion of a bit of blood and thunder and a touch of music-hall farce.

Yesterday's programme closed with the dainty offering of Thomas Muster versus Jeff Tarango, which concluded with Muster, the victor, refusing to shake his opponent's hand.

It should be emphasised that Bruno Rebeuh, the French umpire who was the subject of Tarango's ire when the American was disqualified at Wimbledon in 1995, was otherwise engaged. Rebeuh was on the Centre Court officiating a match between Pete Sampras and Francisco Clavet.

Britain's Mike Morrissey was in the hot seat on Court Lenglen, where Muster concentrated chiefly on improving his form in order to sustain a muscular challenge for the title he won here two years ago, and Tarango presented his customary mixture of affronted dignity and whimsy.

One minute the American was berating the umpire about line calls, the next he was imitating Muster's iron-man walk with a panache that would have done credit to John Cleese.

Morrissey intervened when Tarango imitated Muster's grunting during the course of a point, and ordered a let to be played. Tarango argued and Muster eventually called for the Grand Slam supervisor, Bill Gilmore. "I asked Bill to make sure the match continued fluidly, without having to stop and go for five minutes," Muster said afterwards.

Morrissey continued to be in and out of his chair, checking marks on the clay to settle disputed line calls, and at one stage Tarango doffed his cap and executed an elaborate bow as the umpire made his way back across the court to to his seat.

Muster, for the most part, managed to control his temper, but towards the end of the third set he delivered a smash towards Tarango's body, the ball zooming between the American's legs. Asked if he was trying to hit Tarango, Muster said: "If he would have been in my way, yes."

Early in the fourth set, Tarango served underarm on one point. He won that one, but lost the game and the match drifted away from him, Muster winning 7-5, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Asked why he refused to shake hands, Muster said: "I don't think what we saw today was very professional. You can't say whatever you want to say and then after the match shake hands.

"We know the history of Jeff. He's not an easy guy. There's no excuse for certain behaviour on the court. I know that I'm not always that great when I'm on the court. I'm fighting, I'm giving everything out there. I'm looking at balls and ball marks. But that's all within the rules, and there's no problem with it."

Muster added that Tarango's first-round opponent, Marcelo Filippini, had also refused to shake hands, but Tarango insisted that the reverse was the case.

"I think probably his [Muster's] ego was just a little bruised," Tarango said. "He has such a big ego that if you take a little of his limelight, he just doesn't like it. I think that's what it boils down to."

Asked why he behaved the way he did, Tarango said: "I wanted to win the first set. That was the main thing on my mind. I didn't think I could beat him physically. He apparently trains a lot harder than I do.

"You could see that the crowd expected me to do something bad and wrong. Eventually, I felt they just saw I was trying my hardest, and I was going to have fun.

"The only thing I had a problem with was when Thomas was grunting when I was hitting the ball. I think there's not any room for that. He's doing his little gamesmanship out there. It's a mind game as well as a physical game. I guess he wants all the rules to go in his favour. That's not the way it is out there.

"You know, at some point it's just like an echo in my head, his grunting. It's just too much. I grunt once and we have to play a let. Well, I'm sorry. I mean, I just thought that was comedy. That's just ridiculous."

Wimbledon, here he comes.

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