Chi­nese ten­nis of­fi­cials reach top ech­e­lon

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

As ten­nis grows into main­stream pop­u­lar­ity in China, home­grown game of­fi­cials are catch­ing up with the world’s best thanks to the in­creas­ing international ex­changes and pro­fes­sional drills at home.

Since two-time Grand Slam win­ner Li Na re­tired in 2014, ten­nis fans in China have been ea­ger to see their next com­pa­triot ap­pear at the fi­nal of a ma­jor tour­na­ment. Few would have ex­pected that the next one mak­ing it there might not be a player.

With China’s cur­rent play­ers still hon­ing their game, with rel­a­tively low rank­ings, some of the na­tion’s of­fi­ci­at­ing crew have al­ready risen to the top ech­e­lon, ob­tain­ing international cer­tifi­cates high enough to judge Grand Slam-level tour­na­ments.

Zhang Juan is one of those Chi­nese of­fi­cials. Zhang made his­tory at this year’s Women’s Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion Cham­pi­onships in Sin­ga­pore, be­com­ing the first Chi­nese chair um­pire of­fi­ci­at­ing the fi­nal of the pres­ti­gious year-end tour­na­ment.

As the first and only Chi­nese chair um­pire with a gold badge, the high­est international cer­tifi­cate, Zhang also of­fi­ci­ated the sin­gles fi­nal of this year’s China Open tour­na­ment, which is one of the top women’s events out­side the four Grand Slams. There are three gold-badge of­fi­cials over­all in China.

“The level of recog­ni­tion that she earned in her job is no less than Li win­ning Grand Slams. It was sec­ond to none in China,” said Wan Jian­bin, di­rec­tor of the com­pe­ti­tion de­part­ment of the Chi­nese Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The pres­ence of Zhang and other gold-badge of­fi­cials at elite tour­na­ments proves the com­pe­tency of Chi­nese in this job. But the num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­ally cer­ti­fied of­fi­cials in our coun­try re­mains small due to the lack of ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­fes­sional drills,” said Wan.

In pro­fes­sional ten­nis, of­fi­cials are clas­si­fied into three cat­e­gories: the chair um­pire, chief um­pire and ref­eree.

Un­like a chair um­pire, who of­fi­ci­ates a match in a tall chair at court­side, a chief um­pire as­signs and man­ages on-court of­fi­cials in­clud­ing line judges, while a ref­eree su­per­vises all as­pects of play to en­sure that the tour­na­ment runs un­der International Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion rules.

The ITF, in co­op­er­a­tion with the WTA and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ten­nis Pro­fes­sion­als, ranks of­fi­cials by is­su­ing dif­fer­ent color badges.

A white badge is the low­est level, at­tained by grad­u­at­ing from ITF Level 2 Of­fi­ci­at­ing School. Next is a bronze is­sued to those who pass all the writ­ten and prac­ti­cal tests at level 3 school. Of­fi­cials move up to silver and then gold, the high­est level, based on an­nual eval­u­a­tions of their work rate and per­for­mance.

White-badge of­fi­cials are nor­mally as­signed to do­mes­tic events, while bronze and silver of­fi­cials con­duct early rounds at pro tour events. Only the gold badge hold­ers are el­i­gi­ble for fi­nal rounds of ma­jor tour­na­ments.

There are six Chi­nese of­fi­cials with silver and six with bronze badges in the three cat­e­gories com­bined. Many have more than one badge.

Yin Jian­wei, who just earned a ref­eree’s silver badge from a level 3 school in Shang­hai in Oc­to­ber, said sur­viv­ing the com­pre­hen­sive tests is much tougher than ex­pected.

“The eval­u­a­tion started at the very first mo­ment in the class. How you com­mu­ni­cate with the tu­tors, how ac­tive you are in an­swer­ing questions and how in­tel­li­gently you re­act to case stud­ies all count to­ward your fi­nal as­sess­ment, not to men­tion ran­dom writ­ten tests,” Yin said of the three­day course.

It was the first time that ITF hosted its level 3 school in Chi- na. Seven out of eight Chi­nese par­tic­i­pants passed the eval­u­a­tion to ob­tain bronze and silver badges, el­e­vat­ing the num­ber of Chi­nese of­fi­cials hold­ing white or higher badges to 47.

“With an in­creas­ing num­ber of pro­fes­sional tour­na­ments held in China ev­ery year, the international ten­nis com­mu­nity has sensed the game’s growth here as well as the press­ing need to ed­u­cate lo­cal of­fi­cials,” said Wan.

Ac­cord­ing to the CTA, the coun­try hosts 12 tour­na­ments on the WTA and ATP tours, amass­ing a to­tal of 78 events in­clud­ing lower-level ITF tour­na­ments, while there were only three WTA and ATP events in 2010.

Chen Shu, China’s only gold­badge ref­eree, said tour­na­ments held at home greatly ben­e­fit young of­fi­cials.

“More events at home pro­vide more drills to im­prove and closer ac­cess to ac­cu­mu­late ex­pe­ri­ence at their doorstep. When I started in the 1990s, it was more dif­fi­cult be­cause I had to travel over­seas to chase events, one af­ter an­other,” said Chen, who is now vice-pres­i­dent of event op­er­a­tions for WTA Asia Pa­cific.

Apart from the ITF school­ing pro­gram, the CTA has or­ga­nized 16 na­tional-level train­ing sem­i­nars in­volv­ing at least 1,000 of­fi­cials and has sent 230 of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing line judges, to of­fi­ci­ate 1,200 matches over­seas in the past five years.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Zhang Juan is the first and only Chi­nese chair um­pire with a gold badge, the high­est international cer­tifi­cate.

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