Toughest call for chair umpire may be lifestyle
Sitting in the prime seat with the authority to rule over millionaire superstars, a tennis chair umpire may have one of the most coveted jobs in the game, but few have what it takes to be successful.
A chair umpire must be able to refrain from going to the toilet for as long as five hours, while constantly looking from side to side and maintaining intense concentration.
“Normally, I don’t drink much before umpiring a match. And the tense atmosphere on court always forces me to focus on where every ball lands,” said Huang Shan, a 27-year-old Chinese umpire.
Huang, a graduate student at Beijing Sport University, passed all the written and practical tests at the International Tennis Federation’s Level 3 School in October to obtain a bronze badge, an entry-level professional certificate that entitles her to officiate in the finals of ITF Pro Circuit tournaments.
Huang has ambitions to build a career as a full-time umpire, but the challenges that lie ahead to obtain the silver and the gold badge certificates will go beyond mere testing of her physical limits.
The skills that distinguish Grand Slam chair umpires from those who only officiate in domestic tournaments include being fluent in English, being flexible and reasonable in the use of the rules, and maintaining composure during disputes.
During her final defeat to Australia’s Samantha Stosur at the 2011 US Open, 22-time Grand Slam singles winner Serena Williams of the United States verbally abused chair umpire Eva Asderaki after she docked Williams a point for violation of rules.
“The pressure is huge when you know your calls could be challenged,” Huang said, recalling her first time serving as a line judge on a court equipped with an eagle-eye video review system during the 2011 China Open tournament.
“You have to stay extremely focused and try to capture the image of the ball hitting the ground,” Huang said when offering tips on how to make difficult calls.
Experience is vital for umpires to advance, but the amount of personal time that the job consumes due to traveling from one tournament to the next makes it difficult for people to commit to being fulltime umpires.
“In addition to your knowl- edge, skills and experience, how much of a career you can make depends on your ability to endure traveling all year long and being away from your family,” said Chen Shu, who in 2010 became the first Chinese referee to be awarded a gold badge certificate.
As long as you find a way to overcome all the challenges, the job of a full-time umpire can be rewarding, Huang said.
“The weekly allowance for a bronze-badge certificate holder is about 5,000 yuan ($724), and as much as three times that for a gold-badge certificate holder, in addition to the opportunity to travel around the world.”