Mohamed Lahyani, who was in the chair for John Isner’s 11-hour victory over Nicolas Mahut at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, and did not once leave the court for a loo breaks, gives his tips on how to be a world-class umpire:
Do not socialise with the players.
“We tend to stay in the same hotels as the players, so you will bump into them in the gym or in the lift or in the lobby, and we also take the same cars and buses out to the site. But there are strict rules about not socialising with the players, and especially not one-on-one. Of course, you say hello if you see them away from the courts, but if you had a drink in a bar with them, or a long conversation in a hotel corridor, I think that would look bad. By staying independent, you can make better decisions.”
Have a good breakfast, but do not drink too much coffee.
“You never know whether you will have time to eat again during the day – I needed a good breakfast for that match at Wimbledon. I will also have a double espresso, but that will be my only coffee of the day. Many of the younger officials seem to think that coffee will keep them sharp, but if you drink too much of it you want to go to the bathroom all the time. If I had gone to the bathroom during that match at Wimbledon, keeping Mahut waiting for several minutes before he served to stay in the tournament yet again, and he had then got broken, I would have got the blame. After Isner had won, the first thing he said to me was: ‘How did you do that, sitting there in the chair all that time? What’s your secret?'”
“There are rules about alcohol. You must not drink within twelve hours of a match, and you can never have a drink if you are still at the tennis. Even if you’re finished for the day, and the last match for the day has just gone on, it is forbidden to have a beer at the site, and I know some officials have lost their jobs over that.”
Do not go on court with preconceived ideas of which players will hiss and froth at the mouth.
“You know how some players are on court, as you have studied their personalities, but you have to start every match from scratch, and you must not think, ‘this guy has been a trouble-maker in the past’. It’s very important that you are fair towards everyone else, that you treat everyone the same.”
Let angry players speak, and stay calm.
“You have to be fair and diplomatic and try to calm them down, by engaging them in conversation during the changeovers, and by letting them talk, as they will want to have the last word. They want to let off steam, and you want them to feel comfortable on court. We’re all human and make mistakes, and if you admit to making a mistake, the players will respect you more. When they know you, they feel more comfortable. I suppose I have John McEnroe to thank for my job, as before him, it was mostly local umpires at the tournaments, and now there are professionals, and the standard of the officiating is much higher. It’s important for players to be confident and relaxed, and it’s the same for umpires. If you’re confident, you will make better decisions. If you’re tense and nervous, the players will feel it.”
Concentration is key.
“I don’t think people realise the pressure we are under as umpires, as the players are competing for so much prize-money, and there are television cameras everywhere, with the microphones picking up everything you say, and the Hawk-Eye challenge system. If you lose your concentration for half a second and get something wrong, the whole world is going to know about it in half a second, and within ten minutes you’re going to be on YouTube. During that match at Wimbledon, it felt as though every point was like a match point.”