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Saturday, 17 June, 2000, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Wimbledon supremo speaks out
Michael Stich
Michael Stich pleads his case over a line call to referee Alan Mills in 1995
One of the most familiar figures at Wimbledon is referee Alan Mills, usually seen at the back of the court glancing a furrowed brow towards the cloudy heavens or waiting to come on and settle a dispute between a raging player and umpire. He speaks to BBC Sport Online.

A Davis Cup player for Britain and one-time Wimbledon competitor himself, Alan is now in his 18th year at Wimbledon.

The toughest task he ever faced at Wimbledon was to disqualify a young Tim Henman in 1995.

Henman, then aged 20, smashed a ball in frustration in a doubles match and hit a ball-girl on the head.

Mills says: "I knew what it meant, both to Tim Henman and people in Britain. But the rules were clear and I had to do it."

A young Tim Henman protests his innocence after 'that' ball smashing incident
"He had been beaten by Pete Sampras in the singles earlier that afternoon. It would have been interesting if he had been due to play Sampras the next day, because he was disqualified from the entire championship and would not have been able to play."

I knew what it meant, both to Tim Henman and people in Britain. But the rules were clear and I had to do it

Alan Mills
When you ask him how he got on with the scourge of referees, umpires and linesmen around the world, John McEnroe, the answer is perhaps surprising.

He says: "I certainly don't admire some of his antics on court and unfortunately he will be remembered more for those than the beautiful tennis he played. But personally I did not have that much trouble."

"Every time I have been on court to speak to him, it's been far easier to talk with him than it is to many other players. At least he's completely up front. He makes sure everyone within miles knows what his complaints are."

"And if you can answer them with something he will accept, then fine. It is all over and off he goes. There are others that keep on going, keep niggling all the time."

He is ultimately responsible for enforcing the rules and decides who plays on what court and at what time - including who gets a match on Court Two, the so-called "seeds graveyard" after the number of top players who have lost there.

He says: "The players give me their preferences and I try to go along with them. But one year when McEnroe was put on Court Two, and he phoned me to ask why.

Jana Novotna
The gentle touch: Alan Mills has a quiet word with an emotional champion Jana Novotna in 1998
"He said he thought the defending champion always played on Centre or Number One, perhaps implying his match should be moved. I told him that was not true. He asked me how the court was playing and I said it was playing very well.

"I knew because I had played on it myself. He said 'fine', won his match and that was the end of it."

But whatever happens, Mills never loses any sleep, either over enforcing the rules or the almost inevitable rain delays.

He says: I might not get much sleep during Wimbledon, but I certainly don't lose any of it worrying."

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | AudioVideo
John McEnroe
11 Jun 00 | The BBC Team
John McEnroe
11 Jun 00 | The Brits
Profile: Tim Henman
11 Jun 00 | Sportstalk
Has Henman got what it takes?
11 Jun 00 | Mens Seeds
Tim Henman
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