The umpire made
no attempt to cover the microphone. His face was very red. He wore a blazer and
yachtsman's cap. "Third down!" he called after one of the players had
hit the ball into the net. He swayed back and forth on his perch. A second
paper cup toppled off. "Out!" he called as a player threw up the ball
to serve. He began snapping the bright sun umbrella above his head open and
The linesmen came
over and tried to persuade the umpire to climb down. He refused. Play stopped,
the players just rallying the ball back and forth, occasionally stopping to
director hurried down to the court. He could see the spectators standing. One
look was sufficient. A cluster of men surrounded the umpire's chair, one of
them with a shoe in his hand that had come off when he tried to tug the umpire
down. The tournament director made a quick decision. "Remove the whole
thing. Take that chair off and leave it somewhere."
wire was detached. The chair swayed. Up in his seat the umpire set his jaw,
feigning disdain as they began to jockey his chair out of the court area. It
took six men at the legs to do it. They bore him out across the club
grounds—the official described him as staring straight ahead like a potentate
swaying in his howdah on an elephant's back. Not wanting to have him on the
premises to harass the crowds from his perch, nor especially wishing to tilt
the structure and tip him out, they deposited him in a field behind the far
courts, facing his chair toward a distant water tower, his back to the
umpire was found and also a chair for him to sit in," the official said.
"But by the time everyone had settled down and they were ready for play to
resume, no one could remember the score. So someone ran out to the field on the
off chance the guy out there, despite his condition, might remember. He was
still in his chair gloomily staring off into the distance, and when he was
asked, he looked down from his perch and called out, 'Thirty-40, you nitwits,'
clear as a bell."
came down by the enclosure rail and tapped me on the shoulder. "I have a
match coming up in which you can call a line. Not Nastase, but you'll get a
sense of what it's like."
The official who
had told me the story about the drunken umpire gave me some last-minute advice.
"Don't fall asleep," he said. "It's quite possible to do so. It's
hot out there, and you can find yourself sitting in the sun for three or four
Others had spoken
of that. A day or so before, Clark Graebner had told me about a lineswoman he
had discovered asleep during a match he was playing against Abe Segal, the
South African, at Wimbledon some years back. "It wasn't a dull match at
all," he said, "but I noticed her—after looking over to see why she
hadn't made an obvious 'out' call—and there she was, slumped over slightly,
head down. I went over and nudged her, frankly to see if she had died. Well,
she bobbed her head slightly, but she didn't wake up. Eventually she did, but
by then everyone had noticed her—a quite elderly lady, as I remember, tilted to
one side in her chair—and in the stands there was quite a lot of uproarious
laughter, at least by British standards."
when I mentioned it, also remembered the incident. She told me at the
officials' table that the woman was one of the finest umpires in England, but
after what had happened, she was rarely seen at a tournament again. Small
wonder. Could there be anything more traumatic than beginning to wake up,
hearing the faint drone of the outside world, expecting to see the familiar
pattern of light streaming in one's bedroom window and with a pleasant yawn
working at one's lips only to burst awake in the bright glare of a Wimbledon
court, a tennis player with a supercilious smile standing just a yard or so
away and beyond him the tiers of people rising up, the faces turned, the rows
of bowler hats, and then hearing the guffawing.
Lord! I wondered
if it wouldn't be a good idea to prime myself with a container of coffee.