Wimbledon sojourn for Chennai’s line umpire

While only a handful from India have gone on to officiate in big-ticket events, Syed Akram Javeed is the first from Tamil Nadu to officiate in a Grand Slam.

All smiles: Akram has been officiating for four years and this is his first big break. Photo: Special Arrangement   -  Special Arrangement

Participating in Grand Slams remains the ultimate dream not only for most tennis players, but officials, too. Line and chair umpires share a yearning similar to players, to officiate in Slams to build on their experience.

It can only be a misconception that the Slams are only for the most experienced. While novices, too, get their chances, it isn't tough to sail through the tide if given an opportunity. For Syed Akram Javeed, a line umpire from Chennai, an e-mail from the Wimbledon early this year made his dream come true of officiating in a Grand Slam. While only a handful from the country have gone on to officiate in big-ticket events, Akram is the first from Tamil Nadu to officiate in a Grand Slam.

Pleasant surprise

"The application process (for umpires) starts in December every year. I've been applying to all the Slams since 2017, but I get the same reply saying a lot of applications and better luck next time. Similarly, this year on March 1, I received an email from Wimbledon. I just slid it through thinking it's just another mail saying better luck next time, we'd like for you to apply next year. However, a couple of hours later when I was going through other emails, I realised that this wasn't the same email as I usually get. I opened and couldn't believe that I was actually accepted. It took a while to sink in," Akram said.

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Akram is into officiating for four years now and this is his first big break. "It all began during the ATP Challenger back in 2014 in Chennai. Since then I've been doing both chair umpiring and line umpiring at various events. At the ATP level, I started in the 2016 Chennai Open (line umpiring). I have been working as a line umpire in Challengers, too. I also officiated in the 2017 Chennai Open and the 2018 Maharashtra Open also," he added.

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Akram had to do a lot of homework before his stint in London. "We're mostly used to working at various tournaments, so the protocol was similar. Since it was a grass court tournament and we have none in India, I started browsing for the warm-up events prior to Wimbledon that happen in Europe and there was a tournament in the Netherlands, an ATP/WTA combined event at a town called S'hertogenbosch. So, that was like a perfect warm-up for Wimbledon," he explained.

Akram was one of the 10 umpires from India in the Wimbledon qualifiers and only two out of the 10 officiated in the main draw. "Officiating in the main draw comes in due course, like after working qualifying for at least a couple of years or so."

Eclectic mix

Wimbledon offered Akram more than just tutorials in tennis. "Well, not to miss the strawberry and cream and also the fish and chips, they're just brilliant," he laughed before adding, "The best takeaway from Wimbledon would be working with different people. We had easily about 50 nationalities in one place. Understanding their culture, the way they work, sharing experiences was a good opportunity to understand a lot of nuances because obviously at a tournament of this stature you have the best of the best coming in to work. It is easily one of the best places to learn about officiating, be it the chair or on lines. And of course, the high intensity with which each and every point is played.

"Every point is new. I've met people who have worked for more than 20 years. I learnt to never dwell on past experiences or work. Every time we go on court, we should work as though it's the first time. It is always the work that you do in the week that's considered most important rather than the years that you've spent on court."

But apart from the learning, the strawberries, cream and fish, Wimbledon is incomplete without Roger Federer. "We got to watch a match on Day 1 at the Centre Court. It was majestic, the court, especially with Roger in action, Roger in his territory to be precise. It was a beautiful combination," he concluded.

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