Sports and The "Unimportant": An Open Letter by the Tennis Chair Umpire

Rajat JainSenior Analyst IMay 12, 2009

Warm Greetings to the Tennis Aficionados! 

You guys consider yourself to be tennis experts. You perhaps know the strengths and weaknesses of every tennis player, or can murmur the score of the Wimbledon 2008 final even in sleep.

You can immediately tell the difference between the surfaces of the four grand slams, and can probably lecture on how grass courts have slowed down over the years.

Amidst all the tennis history that you take pride while boasting, you may have never noticed me. Fans claim that I usually possess the best possible seat available to watch a tennis match.

They also say that I am the one who controls the proceedings of the game. I make the decision on each and every point played, and I am the one who etches those finals words “Game, Set and Match” to conclude the fate of a match.

Don’t be surprised! I demand utmost respect from players, and if they don’t follow my suit, I have the full authority to penalize them out of the match! 

While you may feel that I am a powerful entity in this sport, the power that’s been associated with me is merely an illusion.

Although, I sit comfortably on this best seat, my concentration is not as much on the players, as it is on those white lines which define the boundaries of the court. I am expected to accurately predict the spot, with less than a millimeter as margin of error (!!), where a 100 mph ball lands on the court. If this is not enough, the players, especially those of today, remain hell bent on making my job even harder by aiming those balls on the lines! 

Fans who consider the Spaniard sporting those pirate looks as a superhuman, do not realize the inhumane that I endure, when I am expected to correctly call each of those balls for an average of 200 times in a match!

In those rare cases when I am wrong (also throw in those close calls when I’m right), I’ve not been spared any mercy (funny that Merci means Thank You, which is what I expect after a match is over, instead I get a cold-blooded handshake). Some players abuse me gently by showing an angry stare, others tend to yell loudly at me assuming that I am audibly impaired! During acute circumstances, I’ve even been eliminated from the tournament!

I actually manage a grin at these incidents because I have been through worse situations. 

Some players sarcastically speak slowly as if I do not understand their language, while some may nonchalantly call me the worst ever in this profession. Others would not even hesitate to swearing at me in censored language! Do they realize that I may be more than double their age?

Words like “You cannot be serious!” have become tennis’ immortal phrases ignoring the fact that there was a person at his absolute low when those were uttered. As if humanity has ceased to exist, players like these have been heralded for these acts! They suggest it adds flavor to the game! Ask me.

Even the ice heads of the game who usually do not show emotion, have managed to humiliate me at times! However, I realize their situation and brush this off as an anomaly.

You might be running out tissues, but trust me, the worst is yet to follow.

As the game has commercialized, and information technology (called as IT—what a silly name!) has taken the world by storm, my life has gone from bad to worse.

With the advent of commercial breaks during changeovers, most abuses against me usually go unnoticed and my already small group of supporters, who sympathize with me, has become even smaller.

I have silently tolerated this injustice, but the recent introduction of HAWK-EYE has left me in tatters. Like that evil bird, Hawk-Eye is slowly making me obsolete. The limited trust I enjoyed in those previous years has been robbed from me.

Each decision that I make is seen with skepticism and players do not hesitate to embarrass me by challenging my decision and trusting that IT technology.

I get filthy looks when I’m wrong, and the player enjoys sympathy in case I’m right!

I dread the day when Tennis Association would render my services as useless, and throw me out of the game. Experts, though, have given me some solace by assuring that it wouldn’t happen in near future as the organizers still respect tradition.

In case this disaster does take place, I write this letter to all you friends who are mad about this game, to remember the services that I have offered to this wonderful game, and sympathize with my misery.


Best Wishes
Tennis Chair Umpire