When a great tennis match takes place at a major tournament, all of the credit tends, understandably, to go to the two players. In truth, however, there are several other people involved, whose concentration and decision-making can enhance or ruin a classic encounter. These people are the officials. The chair umpire must keep score, ensure the rules are being followed, and arbitrate any disputes. The line judges, or line umpires, must decide quickly and accurately whether a shot has landed in the court, and make their decision very clear.
If the officials are on top form, the players can focus on the match and produce their best performance. There have been examples in the past, however, where poor or uncertain officiating has detracted from the tennis and become the focus of attention. So, what kind of training and guidance do umpires get to prepare them for high-pressure situations which are being watched by millions?
In order to become a tennis umpire, candidates must go through a long training process before they can umpire matches involving the top players, and they will have officiated at many events before they can work at a Grand Slam. Once they get there, top chair umpires can earn up to $450,000 per year.
Difference Between A Chair Umpire And A Line Umpire
A chair umpire is the main decision-maker during play. It is their responsibility to ensure that all rules and guidelines are followed, and the score is kept accurately. They are the only officials on court who can communicate with the players, and they must keep the spectators informed as to the score and any other developments.
Line Umpires are purely responsible for deciding whether a shot has landed within the area of the court they have been asked to watch. If they consider that a shot was ‘out’, they must shout this quickly, loudly, and clearly.
They may have to move around to keep out of the players’ way, while still keeping a good view of the relevant line(s). There are two ways in which a decision by a line umpire can be overturned. Firstly, if the chair umpire believes that the line umpire has made an error they can overrule, and, secondly, at larger tournaments, players can ask for calls to be reviewed using the Hawk-Eye system.
Step By Step – How To Become A Tennis Umpire
In the US, the basic requirement to become a certified umpire is to attend an annual training course and take a written test appropriate to the level at which you want to officiate. Prior to attending the training course, you need to register as a ‘Provisional Umpire’. This requires you to be a member of the USTA, and to have your application signed off by your sectional chairman. You must also take the ‘Provisional Umpire’s Test’, found on the USTA website. If you are to pass the written test and become a certified official, you will need a thorough knowledge of the rules of tennis, and your vision will need to be 20/20 (corrected or uncorrected) in each eye.
There are several levels of certification which you must work your way through if you want to reach the top as an umpire. To work at each level, you must successfully complete the relevant training school. You will be issued with a data card which will enable you to record your officiating experience, and which needs to be submitted and checked each year. As your training progresses, and your experience grows, you can move up to higher level events, but each step up requires you to demonstrate solid experience at the level below. The levels which you can progress through are:
- Provisional Umpire
- Sectional Umpire
- USTA Roving Umpire
- USTA Chair Umpire
- National Chair Umpire
- Professional Chair Umpire
By the time you have reached the top level, you will be a very experienced official.
How Much Do Tennis Umpires Earn?
The picture is a lot more healthy for officials than it used to be, with a culture of professionalism having taken over. When John McEnroe was launching his infamous tirades against officialdom, the umpires were well-meaning amateurs, and did not even have Hawk-Eye to back them up, so it is no wonder that a perfectionist like McEnroe found the situation stressful.
Leading umpires can now earn $450,000 per year or more, although only if they officiate regularly at Grand Slams and work hard throughout the year, traveling around the world.
A top-line umpire can earn 30-40% of the match rate paid to a chair umpire, but they are more likely to only work at major tournaments in their home country, so they will just be looking for a supplemental income from this kind of work. A Professional Umpire who is just starting out on the Tour can expect to earn $60-70,000 per year if they can keep busy all year round.
Tennis Umpire Responsibilities
A chair umpire, according to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), has 21 responsibilities. These include making sure the rules are followed, including those relating to timing, and resolving any disputes. They must keep and announce the score, as well as overruling any calls they believe to be incorrect.
The umpire must communicate clearly with the players, and keep the crowd informed, but also under control. They must direct the ball-kids, check that there are enough balls of good quality, and ensure that the court is fit for play.
Becoming a tennis umpire can lead to a relatively well-paid career involving a lot of travel and glamorous locations. A lot of hard work is needed to get there, however, and the role is rather under-appreciated by players and crowds. If you are a calm person with good concentration, you might want to give it a try.