suspects that much of such court behavior is the result of the tremendous
pressure put on today's players. "In the old days," she said, "if a
player wanted to enter a tournament, why he just let us know he wanted to play.
Now everyone fights for his life on the circuit—if he doesn't win a certain
number of matches, he's out. In such a situation specific points during a match
can mean a great deal to his welfare; you can imagine how important the
decision of a linesman can be."
professionals grouse openly about the officiating. Too often, they feel, their
concentration and the tempo of the match are thrown out of kilter by the calls
and by a nagging suspicion that they are going to be hurt by a bad call or an
insecure umpire. They think many of the officials are too old, especially to
call lines. Tiriac once described their age as being "between 50 and
death." Invariably, the touring pros would prefer to have their matches
marked by young, professional umpires and linesmen, teams that would follow the
tournaments much as basketball and baseball are provided with their officials.
Arthur Ashe, who is the chairman of the rules committee of the Association of
Tennis Professionals, points out that, "There is no reason to expect that
an insurance salesman can come in from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who's umpired a
couple of municipal park tournaments, and sit up there in the chair at Forest
Hills and be a first-rate official. He doesn't have the constant experience. We
need people who do nothing else, who officiate just as much as we play
With others Ashe
has proposed that to help keep a firm hold on matches, umpires should have the
right to impose penalty points. For example, if Nastase stalled serving at the
start of a game, carrying on and flagrantly breaking a rule, the umpire could
call out (without a point being played), " Mr. Nastase, the score is now
love-15." But when the idea was suggested at a recent ATP meeting and a
show of hands was asked to gauge support, of the 74 members present only three
put their hands up. The chief reason for this reaction, Ashe believes, is that
the players have so little confidence in present-day officials that they
despair of giving them that sort of authority.
The economics of
professional officiating is another stumbling block. Along with an umpire and a
net-cord judge, important matches traditionally require 10 linesmen. During the
two-week span of the U.S. Open, Bill Bigelow dispensed officiating functions to
more than 150 officials, some of them—which would indicate their eagerness to
participate—coming at their own expense from as far away as Puerto Rico and
Hawaii. Though the number diminishes as the draw narrows to its final events,
Bigelow has figured out that, including travel, more than a thousand man-days
are involved in officiating a major tournament. Obviously, an equitable payment
for that amount of work done by professionals (in other sports, officials'
salaries range up to $40,000 a year) would cut deeply into the prize money
available for the athletes.
insists that it can be done, perhaps with a cut-down team of six officials,
each responsible for more than one line, helping each other out on critical
points, much as officials in basketball and baseball work together.
As for the cost,
Ashe speaks of it as being "part of the cost of doing business...really
like spending money putting up bleachers. In fact," he says, "you
should have good teams of officials before you have the bleachers."
agree. One of them took me aside in the Pen and whispered that he didn't think
that more than 10 of the 150-plus volunteers at the U.S. Open could qualify as
respectable officials. "To begin with, they should all be forced to take
eye and reaction tests," he said. "I suspect some of these people tap
their way out here with canes. Oh, we have some real beauts." He began
telling me about an umpire in a tournament on the West Coast who in mid-match
was discovered to be belligerently drunk. In the middle of a point in the third
set, a paper cup on the umpire's stand had toppled off and burst in a spray of
ice that rolled out and sparkled on the court.
voice boomed out over the amplifying system. The crowd was startled, and even
more so to hear the umpire call for a ball boy to run up to the clubhouse and
fetch him down a bourbon and soda.
"And bring a