enclosure at Forest Hills—often referred to as the Pen—is in the back rows
under the players' marquee. It contains about 50 chairs, which are usually
occupied by men in dark blazers and gray trousers, who are very often smoking
pipes as they wait to be assigned to matches. Their view of the stadium court
is almost invariably blocked by people standing in the aisle in front of the
enclosure, most frequently tennis players in sweat suits. But though there is a
certain amount of craning of necks and shifting of seats to see what is going
on, most of the officials seem content to sit back and gossip among themselves,
recalling their experiences down on the court and indulging in their favorite
verbal activity—backbiting. It is very lively in the Pen, the volume of noise
not unlike that of a cocktail party. Indeed, when the umpire officiating in the
stadium calls for quiet over the loudspeaker system, he is often attempting to
hush up his own kind chattering away under the players' marquee.
came in for considerable comment during this year's U.S. Open—critical, for a
plethora of curious line calls and for an umpire's occasional loss of control
over a match, and sympathetic, for being victimized by overwrought players,
especially Ilie Nastase. I thought it would be interesting to spend a couple of
days hanging around the Pen to see how the comments had affected the officials
and hoping that I might get a chance to call a line myself—a Nastase match?—to
gauge what the pressures were.
control center is the umpire's desk, which is at one end of the officials'
enclosure; it is presided over by Bill Bigelow, the chief umpire, and his
lieutenant, Flo Blanchard. Flo is the wife of Mike Blanchard, the tournament
director, who has been the premier umpire in the U.S. for years and whose slow
theatric throb from the chair (he can draw out "Love-40" and shiver the
afternoon air with it like a battery of bassoons) is one of the most
distinctive and familiar sounds in professional tennis, right up there with
Jimmy Connors' grunt when he hits the ball and Nastase's cry of "Dio!"
when he misses one.' Flo Blanchard and Bigelow took me in hand, though they
were not so sure about my calling a line in a Nastase match. Perhaps, to see
why, I should talk to some of the officials who had been involved in a Nastase
confrontation. They introduced me around. A typical official was Jerry Manhold,
a mild-mannered gentleman who owns a life insurance business in New Jersey that
specializes in installing pension plans for small corporations. Two days
earlier, he had left his home not long after daybreak for his office in
Madison, N.J., where he worked for a couple of hours. At 9 a.m. he set off in
his new Plymouth sedan for Forest Hills, arriving about 11 o'clock. He carried
a brown paper bag that held his lunch—a ham and cheese sandwich, which his wife
had prepared, and a peach. After he parked, he walked across the grounds of the
tennis club and checked in at the umpire's table. He was given chair No. 10 for
the Nastase-Pohmann match in the stadium—of the 12 positions assigned officials
this was the seat at the end of the doubles lane on the south end of the court
near the players' marquee and under the parapetlike broadcasting booth with the
television cameras sticking out like howitzer muzzles. "It is like being
under the gun," Manhold said, "because they can peer down the line and
second-guess you with stop-action on your call!" But Manhold did not
anticipate any problems. It was his 15th year of officiating at Forest Hills. A
fine club player himself (he played No. 1 for Syracuse in 1937-41, and has been
the senior champion at his home club, Orange Lawn), he does not think calling a
line is an especially taxing job. "Watching one little line and one little
ball is not a problem," he remarked succinctly. "It's a question of
being comfortable sitting there in the chair and paying attention."
The trouble began
in the first set when Nastase complained that he thought a spectator's call of
"Out!" was actually a linesman's call: he had quit on the ball. He
wanted to have the point played over. George Armstrong, an English official
sitting in the umpire's chair, made a ruling in his favor, which was considered
wrong," Flo Blanchard said later. "It's unfortunate if a fan yells like
that, but we think a player ought to be able to tell if the call is coming from
a linesman right behind him, or someone up in the stands. Only the linesman's
call can be operative. It's tough luck, but otherwise a player could have a
confederate up there in the stands calling 'Out!' every time he thought his
friend was having trouble on crucial points."
confrontation with Nastase came at the end of the second set. "The ball in
question landed square on the line," Manhold recalled. "It was the odd
game, 5-4, and the line had been swept while the players were resting during
the changeover, so it was an easy call. But there were two marks outside the
line and Nastase saw them. I have never heard a man scream like that except in
terrible pain. It was an absolutely shocking sound. I was quite stunned. He
stormed around my chair. It was like being in a blizzard. He tried to signal
the umpire that my partner on the line on the other side of the net did not
agree with my call—which was not so. I took him to the spot. It didn't appease
him at all. He shrieked and pointed at the other marks. There wasn't anything I
could do except continue to signal the umpire what I thought."
By this time the
crowd was in turmoil. Objects were hurled out of the stands as the fans'
attention—and Nastase's—began to focus on the umpire.
was paying his first visit to the U.S. He is a civil servant from Eastbourne
with 25 years of experience as a tennis official. On his arrival he had gone
immediately to Philadelphia where he served as an official in the Federation
Cup matches in the week preceding Forest Hills. He is a spare, lively man with
a small gray mustache and the faintly pink mottled face of someone with fair
skin who has spent too much time in the sun. When he appeared at the umpires'
table, Bill Bigelow assigned him to the umpire's chair for the Nastase-Pohmann
match; his credentials were excellent—all those years of officiating, including
umpiring two final matches at Wimbledon. Forest Hills was very honored to have
problem was the crowd," Armstrong said about his experience. "Oh, yes,
quite a departure from Wimbledon. I kept saying over the public-address system,
'Quiet, ladies and gentlemen,' but [he looked aggrieved] I could not make
myself heard. I said, ' Nastase, please play!' but because of all that racket he
could not hear me. Finally, he came over to the chair. He called up, 'I accept
the call. It is 30 all. But come and look at the marks.' I shouted down at him,
'If you accept the call, sir, there's no point in my looking at your marks.
Please play!' "
his head, recalling with dismay the awesome sound of the crowd: it was as if
the amphitheater with its great welter of noise had been tilted against his ear
like a bowl. He was remembering, too, the litter of flung programs, the tennis
balls tossed down and the oranges rolling helter-skelter and lopsidedly across
the geometric perfection of the tennis court.