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A win for sportsmanlike conduct

EXCELLENCE and exuberance were welcome replacements on Center Court at Wimbledon last weekend for some of the excesses witnessed there in recent years. Boris Becker of West Germany -- in defeating Kevin Curren of the United States to become, at 17, the youngest gentlemen's singles champion ever in the world's most prestigious tennis tournament -- didn't hold back anything. Anything, that is, but the official-baiting, taunting of fans and opponents, and intemperate language that have in recent years become an embarrassment to what was once the most decorous of sports.

Women's tennis has experienced very few such incidents. When Martina Navratilova defeated Chris Evert Lloyd on Saturday to win her fourth straight Wimbledon title, there was one loud outcry: Ms. Navratilova venting her anguish at a misplayed return.

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Perhaps, in past times, there was too much concern with decorum and status. But the democratization of tennis -- and other sports -- need not be accompanied by abandonment of behavioral standards.

Both Mr. Becker and Mr. Curren managed to play with great intensity, and even to show occasional disapproval of line calls or their own lapses, without turning the court into a debating arena.

There is little doubt that young Becker's astounding Wimbledon feat will be followed by appearances in other championship matches. With apparent maturity and self-control to match his amazingly accurate serve, he could set a new trend toward improved tennis court behavior.

Meanwhile, some recent incidents at other sports events have prompted responsible officials to take strong steps to curb altercations both on the playing fields and in the stands.

Long-overdue limitations have been placed on consumption of alcoholic beverages. But the limits are not stringent enough. And the designation of certain parts of the stands as ``family areas'' may seem a progressive step -- until the question occurs: Why shouldn't every seating area in a ballpark be safe for everyone, young and old?

Television, which has made major sporting events available to so many millions in recent decades, usually tries to handle misconduct by players and spectators responsibly. It is not easy to know whether to show bad behavior to the home audience in order to expose it or to point the TV camera elsewhere. Nor is it easy to know when to criticize those involved rather than remain neutral. Undoubtedly, some fans and players might not perform their antics if they didn't think they were ``on camera.''

Whether misconduct constitutes simple lack of proper sportsmanship or outright violence, ways must be found to curb it.

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One of the best ways to return propriety to the playing fields was witnessed at Wimbledon last Sunday.

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