Tantrums, Anyone?

IF a gladiator attacked a Roman emperor for a thumbs-down ruling that meant instant death, one might understand.

But tennis?

That once most genteel of sports - where a player purposely double faulted if he thought a ruling had been unfair to his opponent - seems more-than-ever intent on joining the realm of hockey body-mashing and soccer-fan hooliganism.

True, Jimmy Connors has mellowed and Screamin' John McEnroe, TV analyst, is calmly criticizing tennis tempers. But now we have Jeff Tarango and his wife delivering a one-two punch to an umpire, and to the grand old racquet sport, in its most hallowed shrine, Wimbledon. Wrong kind of strawberry!

Nobody suggests going back to the world of long white trousers, ankle-length dresses, and talent-excluding snobbery. Tennis today is one of the most exciting games of individual dexterity and strategy. But it has been losing audiences and participants to other sports. If there's anything that turns fans off more quickly than spoiled millionaire baseball stars charging for autographs, it's egocentric tennis stars throwing tantrums.

The managers of pro tennis now have a reason to remind coaches, players, and the thousands of teachers and local pros who train young hopefuls that sportsmanship and fierce competitiveness are not mutually exclusive. Tantrums are the opposite of competitiveness. They're an embarrassment in any sport.

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