Friday, June 29, 2018

Working as a USTA Line Umpire - my early experiences

I have hesitated to write this for several months because:

  • USTA officials are supposed to be as inconspicuous as possible
  • In fact, line umpires are meant to be anonymous 'extensions' of the chair umpire
Hence, you may have noticed a lack of information on the Internet about the job of a line umpire, other than that which is provided by the United States Tennis Association about how to become one.

But I feel that it's important to capture at least some of my experiences in hopes that it will help others decide whether they want to become a line umpire, or not, by better understanding what the job entails (e.g. from someone who's done it).

Like any job, there are pro's and con's, and everyone's perspectives and thoughts will be unique to themselves.  Eight months ago I knew virtually nothing about the job.  And even after attending a USTA Line Umpire class, I still didn't know what I now believe to be fairly essential information for anyone that is thinking of becoming one.

A line umpire is effectively another set of eyes for the chair umpire on a specific line; he/she may have to move from the center service line to a long line once the ball is in play.  The chair umpire facilitates the match between its players.  Among the chair umpire's responsibilities is make the final decision on fact questions and overrule clear mistakes, which includes whether a ball is "in" or "out",  he or she will calls lines when there are no Line Umpires assigned, may assign (reassign or replace) officials to lines, and may make calls if the line umpire is unable to do so.

Make no mistake, the chair umpire is in charge and is the final authority as to whether a ball is "in" or "out".  He or she can overrule a line umpire and the line umpire, even if his/her call is correct, must silently accept the chair's ruling and do nothing to indicate any disagreement with the chair's call.  So, it takes humility to be a line umpire.

There are a plethora of line umpire configurations, from chair +1 (line umpire) to chair +9 (line umpires) AND there are variations within these configurations, some of which may be uniquely derived by the chief umpire, the chair or the tournament supervisor.  So, even though you may receive a USTA Officiating Line Umpire - Participant Guide, which contains a Line Umpire Configurations section (as I did), you may have to adapt to something new "on the fly" once you're actually working at a tournament.

Among the chief umpire's responsibilities are the hiring of line umpires for a given tournament, and assigning them to crews and courts during the course of it.  Therefore, getting to know a chief umpire - or having an established official assist with a recommendation - is the best way to get work as a line umpire.

The chief umpire creates, distributes and/or posts a daily crew sheet; it has crew personnel and court assignments and usually designates a crew chief (for each crew), who has additional responsibilities like setting up the court before the match, taking care of the chair umpire's needs, and establishing the "on-off" rotation and/or positions for his/her crew.  Each chief umpire has their own way of communicating with his/her line umpires, from emails/texts in advance of the tournament to those methods during the tournament, and one chief's crew sheet may look entirely different from another's.

As far as actually doing the job of a line umpire on the court, there is a lot more to it than you probably think.  While it may look simple (e.g. on TV) to stand there, looking down a line and calling the ball "out" when the ball hits the court outside the line, did you know that you may have to move during the point AND that you may have to silently signal that the ball was within 18" of the line "in" as well?  I certainly didn't.  Also, did you know that each chair umpire may have unique preferences for how they want their line officials to perform the job?  In fact, one of the most crucial tasks of a line official is "selling the call" so that the players (and the chair) have confidence that you saw the ball accurately and made the right call.

Plus, there are other responsibilities and things to know which I'll take up in my next post.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Working as a USTA roving umpire - some observations

I just got back from working as a roving official at a National Level 3 tournament in Rome, Georgia.  This was the first National tournament that I've gotten to work so far, but I'm scheduled to work two more over the next 5 months.

I had worked a Southern Region Level 2 tournament in Macon, Georgia in February, so I thought I knew what to expect regarding the quality of the players, ages 12-18.  What I didn't know was that a National tournament actually attracts better players than a Region tournament, so the Level 3 kids I watched play in Rome this weekend were better players than the Level 2 kids I'd watched play in Macon.  I'm sure some of the same kids were in both tournaments, as both are close to Atlanta where there are a lot of youth tennis players.

There were nearly 400 players in this tournament:  12, 14, 16 and 18 years old, boys and girls.  The first day, Saturday, was a long 13 hour (only briefly delayed by sprinkles of rain) day.  Whew!  Sunday's matches were delayed 4 hours - from an 8 AM to a noon start - due to rain.  As an official, I was expected to help squeegee the courts' puddles so that the wind could dry them.  One would think a late March tournament in Georgia would be warm, but the temperatures were in the 40's and the wind made it feel even colder.  Sunday was a 9 hour day and so was Monday, when the semi-finals and finals of the singles, the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the doubles were played.

I got to meet a lot of other officials, one of which came from as far away as Knoxville, TN to work, while most were from Georgia (even the Atlanta metro area):  men and women who are for the most part were in their 50's or older, though there were at least three I met that were younger.

The hardest part about being a roving umpire is the physical demands of the job, while knowing and applying the rules seems easier, at least for me.  Standing on one's feet for more than an eight hour day with few breaks and (usually) one supplied meal can be difficult, especially if one's heart isn't in the right place.  But the desire to be a loving servant of the game and (guide for) its youth supplies me with all I need.  More to come ...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Working as a USTA Roving Umpire

My first experience as a USTA official was as a Roving Umpire.  I think this is pretty typical for most newly certified officials.

After completing all the requirements - see my previous post - I shadowed an experienced official at a youth tournament to learn 'hands-on' how to begin and monitor matches.  If possible, a roving umpire will start all the matches with a pre-match discussion with the players.  This will typically include a review of the scoring (pro-set, best two out of three sets, 3rd set match tiebreaker, no ad etc.) and the tossing of a coin for choice of serve, side or deferral.  After their 5-minute warm-up, the players will keep score and call their own lines until the match is over.

A roving official will monitor 4-6 (or sometimes more) matches at the same time.  If one of the players has a question about the score, the rules, or their opponent's line calling etc., they can ask for an official to come to their court.  The roving umpire, if available, will help to resolve any issues, answer any question(s), and may choose to stay on the court - at the net post - to watch the proceedings for a couple of games.  During this time, the players continue to call their own lines but the official will overrule any obvious errors.

Youth tournaments can be Level 1 (the highest, e.g. best players) to Level 5 (e.g. beginners), and you can probably guess that the higher the level, the more high strung the players and their parents are.  At level 5, you may need to assist more with scoring and/or instructions for the players and their parents, and both are usually grateful for any help.  At the higher level tournaments, the opportunity to get involved in more contentious situations and disputes on and off the court is elevated.  Therefore, a roving official needs to be prepared to be "Switzerland", even handed and even keeled.

At this point, having officiated half a dozen tournaments from Level 2 to Level 5, I haven't been involved in too many situations where I felt that either the player or their parent was out-of-line, but I realize that these opportunities will increase the more I work as a roving official.

I have to say that I have really enjoyed working as a roving official at youth tournaments, from the 8 year old players (on the smaller courts with modified bounce balls) to the 18 year old players, males and females alike.  It's been both a challenge and a pleasure.  More to come ...

Monday, March 19, 2018

Becoming a USTA Official - helpful links

For anyone interested in more information about "How to become a USTA official", I've posted some helpful links below:

From the USTA's website:

https://www.usta.com/en/home/about-usta/who-we-are/national/Become-An-Official.html

For information specific to the Southern region (southeastern states):

http://www.southern.usta.com/How-To/6876_Become_a_Certified_Official/

For information specific to Georgia (my state):

http://www.georgia.usta.com/officials/

After you have become a USTA official, you may want to consider becoming an ITA official, which would allow you to officiate intercollegiate (i.e. college) events:

http://www.itatennis.com/officials.htm

Additionally, if you live in Georgia, you could join the Atlanta Professional Tennis Umpires Association, which could facilitate your getting assignments at USTA and/or ITA events:

http://www.aptua.org/

Each of these certifications require on-line testing, an eye test, and some level of participation, e.g. a conference call (for ITA), shadowing an existing official at an event, etc.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Becoming a USTA Official

Last August, while volunteering at the 2017 BB&T Atlanta Open, I met the State of Georgia Chair of Officials.  She was actually discussing "How to become a USTA official" with another volunteer, and I listened in because what she was saying sounded very interesting, and fun.

Apparently the United States Tennis Association has implemented an on-line (re-) certification process for its officials.  They've created content and testing which allows someone to learn the requirements of each of its jobs, and then test to show mastery of the knowledge.  One must then "shadow" an experienced official at an event to become certified.  Once certified, officials are independent contractors that can be hired to work at tournaments and events.

There are several officiating roles:  a roving umpire, a line umpire, a chair umpire, and a referee are four of the most common.  A roving umpire is responsible for monitoring matches on several different courts simultaneously (e.g. the players call their own lines, but the official can be called by any player to help resolve a dispute etc.).  Most tennis fans are familiar with line and chair umpires, though there is a lot more to these positions than meets the eye.  A referee typically hires and oversees these officials, and is the final authority on the rules of the game throughout the tournament.

I was certified as a roving umpire in the fourth quarter of 2017 and have now worked as a roving umpire at half a dozen weekend tournaments in Georgia.  I will be using this Atlanta Tennis Blog to chronicle my experiences and impressions, and hope you'll follow along.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Semi-finalist Ryan Harrison @ryanharrison92 through the years 22 pictures @bbtatlantaopen #BBTAO

I've been a volunteer at the Atlanta Open (before it was the BB&T) since its second year, and have taken pictures and video - many of which make their way to this Atlanta Tennis Blog - of most of the players that compete here.

After Ryan Harrison's thrilling victory last night over Great Britain's Kyle Edmund, I remember that I'd taken quite a few of pictures of the youthful American at the Atlanta ATP tournament, and I thought I'd share the best of them here.  From the second Atlanta Open in July, 2011:
July, 2011 on the practice court; the tournament's third year
At what was The Racquet Club of the South (now Life Time Fitness)
Ryan Harrison on Stadium Court, which was too short per regulations, at the 2011 Atlanta Open
You can read details of Harrison's 3 set win (pictured above) over the "X man" Xavier Malisse here:
http://atlanta-tennis.blogspot.com/2011/07/atc-photos-rain-rain-go-away-and-dont.html

Then, the following year, at the very first BB&T Atlanta Open in July, 2012:
Ryan Harrison on Stadium Court at the Inaugural BB&T Atlanta Open - July, 2012

Harrison serving to American James Blake

Harrison was 20, Blake was 32 (and would retire at the US Open the following year)

Harrison took the first set 6-1

The Stadium Court configuration was different in 2012 than it is today (2017)
Ryan Harrison receiving serve from James Blake
Both players are/were known for their first serves, movement, and forehands

Blake took the second set 6-3

Blake won the match 1-6, 6-3, 7-5
After losing to Blake, Harrison was seen the next morning warming up eventual tournament winner Andy Roddick on the Grandstand Court (Stadium Court in the background):

Serving to Roddick

Hitting a backhand

Hitting a forehand

A good hit between Ryan Harrison and Andy Roddick, now a Hall of Famer (the 2012 BB&T was his last tournament win)

Harrison teamed with Australian Matthew Ebden to win the men's doubles title that year.

Matthew Ebden and Ryan Harrison won the Inaugural BB&T Atlanta Open doubles title in 2012
A recap with pictures and video of the Harrison-Ebden doubles match can be read/seen here:
http://atlanta-tennis.blogspot.com/2012/07/bb-atlanta-open-sundays-finals-recap.html

In July, 2013, I captured these pictures of Ryan Harrison's second round match against Igor SijSling:

Harrison hitting a backhand

Harrison hitting a running forehand
Another Harrison forehand
Harrison wins the first set

Harrison wins the match to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2013 BB&T Atlanta Open
I hope that you have enjoyed this pictures of Ryan Harrison through the years at the Atlanta Open!

Last night, after Harrison said "Go Tech!" in his post match on-court interview with Brad Gilbert, I wanted to say "Go Ryan, beat the big dawg!!!"

Friday, July 28, 2017

2017 BB&T Atlanta Open #BBTAO @bbtatlantaopen Harrison vs. Millman video and pictures - July 27, 2017

I was able to capture the end of the first set between American Ryan Harrison and Australian John Millman, which Millman won 6-4 before losing to Harrison in 3 sets.
And here are a couple of pictures, Millman serving to Harrison, from that match:

2017 BB&T Atlanta Open #BBTAO @bbtatlantaopen rain delay video and pictures - July 27, 2017

I captured a video and some pictures of the storm approaching the Grandstand court, and over the Stadium Court:

2017 BB&T Atlanta Open #BBTAO @bbtatlantaopen Edmund vs. Gojowczyk videos and pictures - July 27, 2017

Thursday was perhaps the longest day for tennis at the 2017 BB&T Atlanta Open, at least as far as when it ended.  Though matches began at earlier times during the week, they didn't start until 2 PM yesterday and, with a full slate planned, rain delayed their completion until the wee hours of Friday morning.

I got a chance to watch a lot of Great Britain's Kyle Edmund's match against Germany's Peter Gojowczyk.  After breaking Edmund twice in the first set and taking it 6-2, the German lost the next two after an extended rain delay.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2017 BB&T Atlanta Open #BBTAO @bbtatlantaopen Wednesday, July 26 recap

A beautiful (if hot) day for tennis without rain (first time this week?) featured several upsets in both singles and doubles, with many matches being decided in 3 sets.  American Tommy Paul moved forward with a win over Malek Jaziri, the only player from Tunisia on the ATP tour, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.

Presiding over the match was Mohamed Lahyani of Sweden
While this was going on, the second seeded doubles team - and 2017 French Open Champions - Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus were being beaten in three sets by Argentine's Andres Molteni and Canadian Adil Shamasdin, who won 6-4, 0-6, 10-7.

Almost looks like a foot-fault, right?
2017 Wimbledon giant killer Gilles Muller, who beat Rafael Nadal in a match that culminated in a 15-13 fifth set, took three sets to beat France's Quentin Halys, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.  In a bizarre, extremely rare occurrence, the net cable snapped in the third game, causing an almost 20 minute delay after which the players were allowed a five minute warm-up:

Atlanta's heat and humidity were too much for this net
The next match up on the Stadium Court featured Atlanta native Donald Young and Lukas Lacko, whose forehand was the difference.  The Slovakian beat the American in less than an hour, 6-3, 6-1.

Donald Young has rarely played well in Atlanta
This was followed by the evening's featured match between three-time BB&T Atlanta Open Champion and University of Georgia star John Isner and Canadian Vasek Pospisil, which the big man won in short order, 6-4, 6-3.

Pospisil & Jack Sock won the 2014 Wimbledon doubles title
Will Isner win his fourth BB&T?
Thursday's lineup will include fourth seeded Ryan Harrison's first singles match (vs. Australian John Millman), followed by Georgia Tech's Christopher Eubanks vs. up-and-comer Jared Donaldson, and top-seeded Jack Sock's first singles match (vs. the diminutive Dudi Sela), all on the Stadium Court.

I have to thank my volunteer coordinator Claire and the tournament's volunteer coordinator Jane for giving me a Stadium Court pass for yesterday; I really appreciated it and it has been my honor to serve in Volunteer Services.  Today is my last day, recap with pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

2017 BB&T Atlanta Tennis Open #BBTAO Tuesday, July 25 recap

I finally got to see some tennis yesterday, Tuesday, July 25, from the volunteer viewing area atop the Stadium Court:

View of the Stadium Court setup
That's the place, just under the American flag, to the right of "Coca Cola":

Volunteer viewing area atop the Stadium Court
I got to see a little bit of the match between Reilly Opelka and Malek Jaziri; after the American squandered match points in the second set, the Tunisian won the tiebreaker 16-14, and the third 6-1:

Jaziri serves to Opelka
I also got to see the end of the first set of Atlantan Donald Young's straight set victory over American Tim Smyczek and captured his exultant scream as he came back from serving at 5-4, 0-40 to take the first set on video:


Perhaps the biggest news from Tuesday's first round matches was local favorite Georgia Tech's Christopher Eubanks first ATP main Tour win, in straight sets, over favored, tour up-and-comer Taylor Fritz last night.  Go Jackets!

Others moving on to the second round include Americans Jared Donaldson and Tommy Paul, Great Britain's Kyle Edmund, Israel's Dudi Sela, Slovakian Lukas Lacko, and Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The 2017 BB&T Atlanta Open Tennis Tournament is underway!

Although I didn't get to see any tennis today - my shift was ending just as the rain was starting - I did enjoy my first volunteer gig for the tournament since 2014.  Since I'm 'working' in volunteer services, I assisted with lunch today, asking "sandwich or wrap", then serving it and directing other volunteers to the condiments,chips and drinks.  Thrilling, right?

Actually it was a lot of fun because it's a people business; I saw some familiar faces - including my coordinator Claire, who's been with the Atlanta tournament all but the first year - and met some new folks like Louis and Tricia, the other coodinator.  So much fun, am looking forward to my shifts Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this coming week.  Don't forget to stop by and say hello!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Looking forward to returning to the BB&T Atlanta Open after a 3 year absence!  I will be volunteering in Volunteer Services this time, as the Scorekeeper and Court Monitor roles are no longer volunteer positions.  I'll be there this Saturday, then next Tuesday-Thursday during the day.  Stop by and say hello if you'd like.

I hope to be posting pictures and summaries of matches that I'll watch from the new covered volunteer watching area.  In the past, volunteers got two tickets to a day or night session before the quarterfinals began on Friday.  So, I guess I won't be down there on championship weekend;-)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

BB&T Atlanta Open 2014 - Semifinal Saturday @BBTatlantaopen

My recap of Saturday at the BB&T Atlanta Open at Atlantic Station begins with a point to my Twitter feed, where I spent a lot of time sharing the activities of the day in real-time.  My post here is really just an overflow from the events with some additional pictures I took which weren't shared on Twitter:

Steve Johnson (partner Sam Querrey) serves to Kevin King (partner Michael Venus)
Venus serves to Querrey
Querrey serving (partner Johnson at net)
Querrey-Johnson walking toward your humble photographer (notice ball)
John Isner in full-flight serving to Jack Sock (ball right above Isner's head)
And again, both players off the ground (ball on racquet)
Sock hitting a forehand return above his shoulders
Isner with a backhand return

Only got this one of Sock serving, sorry
I very much enjoyed the doubles match, and hope today's is even better.  The singles was a BORING serving contest between two guys that need backhands if they want to compete with anyone in the top 10.

The tournament was great this year, my first in which I am missing the finals.  Enjoy!