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Sunday, 11 June, 2000, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
The umpire strikes back
David Mercer
David Mercer, umpiring the '84 McEnroe-Connors final
By BBC commentator David Mercer

Tennis officiating has changed radically from when I first umpired at Wimbledon, back in 1973.

I had received no formal training before going to The Championships, and yet on my first day there I umpired a men's singles match, and on my second called lines on the Centre Court.

That would never happen now, for the Association of British Tennis Officials has a thorough system of training and selection.

Learn your lines

If you fancy becoming a Wimbledon umpire, you will be invited to a half day seminar, and to call lines at five local tournaments, before having to pass a basic line judging course.

Only then do you become eligible for Full Membership of the Association. Some people then concentrate on line judging, while others hope to become top class umpires.

If you want to follow that second path, you will have to obtain the qualifications of the International Tennis Federation.

Throughout the world there are about 800 qualified ITF officials, including some 26 holders of the highest Gold Badge qualification. These include all the full-time officials employed by either the ITF or the men's ATP Tour.

Nice earner

That is another huge change since my day, when officiating was an unpaid hobby.

Nowadays the top officials make about 37,000 a year, plus expenses, for working at approximately 20 tournaments.

The employment of full-time umpires has undoubtedly raised standards. The Gold Badge holders are normally outstanding, and are far more consistent than enthusiastic amateurs can ever be.

They also get to know the players far better, which has helped the players to build up confidence in them. Although there are still occasional rows on court, they are certainly not as frequent as 20 years ago.

And what about McEnroe?

In my experience the full time umpires are also very nice people. The thing we have in common is a love of tennis.

Many of them, like myself, would have loved to have played at the highest level, but turned to officiating when they realised they simply were not good enough, but still wanted to be involved in top class tennis.

That answers one of the questions I am often asked, namely what makes anyone want to become a tennis official?

The other is, what was it like to umpire McEnroe? I answer, "challenging and interesting, but not as difficult as dealing with Connors or Nastase".

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | The BBC Team
David Mercer
11 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
Bring on the champions
09 Jun 00 | Wimbledon2000
New balls please
09 Jun 00 | Photo Galleries
Memorable characters from SW19 in the 1980s
10 Jun 00 | Fans Guide
The traditions of Wimbledon
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