He had his share of anxious moments

INDIANS proved to be reliable and resourceful team players at Wimbledon 2003, winning two of the three doubles titles they participated in.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

Nitin Kannamwar became the first Indian to officiate in four finals in the Wimbledon Championship.-Pic. VIVEK BENDRE

INDIANS proved to be reliable and resourceful team players at Wimbledon 2003, winning two of the three doubles titles they participated in. An unusual off-court achievement was by Nitin Kannamwar, a 39-year-old member of the International Tennis Federation's `Star Trek' squad of 16 hand-picked officials.

Nitin figured in four finals as a match official, a first for an Indian, witnessing drama and action from close quarters as a line official in the men's singles decider featuring Roger Federer and the mixed doubles final where Leander Paes combined with the peerless Martina Navratilova.

"Federer's style of play which leans more towards the conventional, his boyish charm and good behaviour on court are examples of an emerging star who will go a long way," said the only Asian on the ITF 16-member official squad comprising technical people from all over the world. Regarding Leander's gracious gesture (bowing to Martina) after the mixed doubles matchpoint, he said: "a great moment". Sania Mirza guided Russian teen Alisa Kleybanova to victory in girls' doubles, while the Mahesh Bhupathi/Max Mirni pair finished runner-up.

Wimbledon 2003 was his seventh assignment. So he had a lot of experience to fall back on when working amidst the who's who of world tennis, apart from three Australian Opens, two US Opens and one French Open. Kannamwar has worked his way up the ladder from ITF Satellites/Futures and Association of Tennis Professionals Challengers, before getting noticed for unflappable, yet no-nonsense nature and ability to work as part of a team. He was rewarded with assignments at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 2000 Sydney Olympics (as official), 1998 Bangkok Asian Games (chair umpire) and 2002 Busan AG (tournament referee), hitting the Grand Slam trail along the way.

This Indian had his share of anxious Centre Court moments in a job where there is no second serve, assisting Wimbledon chair umpires make up their mind with split-second decision-making in an increasing technology oriented world where every match featuring Grand Slam greats can be a hair-raising experience. "The game has become very professional and there is cut-throat competition. The players expect the same level of professionalism from officials. They want nothing less than perfect," observed the Mumbai-based Kannamwar, coach/manager of Western Railway tennis team, in an interview to The Sportstar. Excerpts:

Question: Figuring in four finals, with three featuring Indian players, did it reflect in the officials' room talk?

Answer: Yes, of course. Everybody was talking about it. I felt very proud to be an Indian. We have now become `Doubles Specialists'.

The Federer Effect on tennis in years to come? Having been one of men's singles final line officials on Centre Court, do you feel he is a dream player for match officials too?

Federer will have a very healthy effect on tennis as a whole. He is a very stylish player with flair, an all-court player who has everything. After doing two matches featuring him this time (final versus Mark Philippousis and second round versus Mardy Fish), he appeared to be a very well-behaved player, very focussed on his job.

Officiating in Grand Slams is a high pressure affair, with tennis careers at stake, sponsors around courts, tennis experts on television watching you. How do you deal with such situations?

It is like going to office. We are professionals and try to do the job to the best of our ability.

Which quality among match officials is respected most by tennis pros? Any actual incidents you would like to highlight?

In 2001, before the Australian Open, at another event as a chair umpire I was assigned to do the finals between (Yevgeny) Kafelnikov and (Andre) Agassi. I had never done a final at that level, that too one with Agassi and Kafelnikov at opposite ends. Agassi was then the biggest name in tennis world and also famous for his temper. I was understandably tense.

Seeing that, the referee told me before the match, "I have a lot of confidence in you, that is why I have given you this important match. Andre (Agassi) is a professional to the core. He expects the same from the umpire. If you do your job properly, he will respect you, if you make mistakes he will not be very happy with you. As simple as that ! So the bottomline is, do the JOB with nothing left wanting''. And I did it.

Wimbledon has age-old traditions. Any technology innovations in 2003 worth talking about?

Even at Wimbledon, where traditions are preserved like a good wine, there are electronic gadgets to help tennis become more professional with changing times. There are sensors that beep when the ball touches the net on serve, even by faintest of touches. There are `Cyclop Machines' to help call on service lines during one of those booming 140mph serves. Chair umpires have palmtops instead of a scorecard and just punch score after every point. The information is linked to a main computer, which relays it to other areas.

Your memorable moment on court in Wimbledon 2003?

My first assignment on show courts was on Court-1, with Agassi playing Lars Burgsmuller (Germany). These days, on the net there is a device that gives off a `beep' when the ball touches the net while serving. At the end of the second set, the sensor on the net's far end had come off. It wasn't in the vision of the chair umpire, but since I was on the service line, I could see it. I informed him about it after the set got over, then went over and fixed it. Had it not been noticed, the machine wouldn't have read the `net calls' and then wouldn't beep. The chair umpire was happy. Luckily it was such an important match.

In your career on the sidelines have you come across any incidents or superstitions about the game's performers worth remembering?

Agassi always likes all ball-boys in their original positions when he's serving. If after an earlier point, or in between first/second serves, if a ball boy runs and goes to another position, Agassi will ask him/her to go back. He wouldn't start the point before that. I remember Ivan Lendl, everytime he won the toss, always asked his opponent to choose.