Interview with Chair Umpire Bjorn Wesstein
The chair umpire has the best seat in the house and highest authority on court.
The chair umpire is much more than the authority who sits in a high chair and announces the score. Chair umpires are the guardians of the rules of tennis and enforce them to ensure a match is played in a spirit of fair play.
Umpires are impartial and cannot be prejudiced. The chair umpire has the final word on all issues relating to on-court facts.
In matches where line umpires are assigned, the chair umpire has the duty to over-rule any clear mistake made by a line umpire. In matches where electronic review, Hawk-Eye, is in use, technology can over rule a line umpire’s and/or a chair umpire’s decision and cannot be appealed. It is the chair’s umpire’s duty to control the match and enforce the code of conduct when necessary.
Mr. Bjorn Wettstein, Chief of Officials for Apia International Sydney, has extensive experience working as a chair umpire at tournaments around the world, including the Grand Slams. He returns to work the Australian Open next week.
Mr. Wettstein, who currently holds a silver chief badge, sat down with Tennis Now for this interview in Sydney that includes his insight on Hawk-Eye, the time violation rule and the pressure and responsibilities that come with the job.
MM: What attracted you to become a chair umpire? Did you have a tennis background?
Bjorn Wettstein: I played tennis as a teenager; I was always interested in tennis. I started line umpiring—that is the normal path. I stayed in tennis became a chair umpire, then an international chair umpire, then became chief of umpires— that was my path.
MM: What are the main attributes necessary to become a chair umpire?
Bjorn Wettstein: Obviously you have to like the sport, what you like you do well. You have to see the ball properly. You have to have a certain attitude. You want to make decisions. You are exposed to a lot of factors on court players and fans, etc. Foremost of all you have to enjoy it.
MM: What training is required?
Bjorn Wettstein: It depends on the country. In Australia there are several levels of training for line umpire’s training and chair umpire’s training. From there you proceed to make your accreditation, badges from Nationals C’s. National B’s and National A. Then you can actually start going to international level where you go through different training. It can take quite a while.
MM: Is there any official age a chair umpire is required to retire?
Bjorn Wettstein: Good question. As far as I am aware no, there isn’t.
MM: At times in a match do you feel pressure?
Bjorn Wettstein: Depends on what kind of pressure. There is always pressure in a sense that you want to do your best on court, but then it is circumstantial I guess. Of course it is a different story if you have a match on Rod Laver Arena in front of 12,000 people, or in a local tournament, court 12, where no one is around. The pressure you put on yourself in a way, you have to be focused, concentrated and you have to be confident in what you are doing and then you don’t really feel the pressure.
MM: Do chair umpires usually have another job outside of tennis?
Bjorn Wettstein: When you reach a certain level gold badge and maybe even silver badge chair umpires, I think that is most likely their profession. We do have many chair umpires that still do it as a hobby. You have to decide… Do you want to take the path and do it as a profession? If you decide to do it as a hobby then you can’t reach the highest level.
MM: Do you think the introduction of the Hawk-Eye line-calling system has improved the game of tennis?
Bjorn Wettstein: I think the game of tennis itself is still the same. I think it has changed it in a way that it added something, maybe some suspense, mainly for the spectators, because there is action going on, there is some change going on. Players can challenge a call where they could not before, so they can always try to prove the umpire is right or wrong. Mostly the umpire is right, statistics show. It just adds another element to the sport which makes it more exciting.
MM: Do you think Hawk-Eye could be used for clay tournaments? Or are you of the opinion that the ball leaves a mark on clay; umpires are used to checking the marks when needed?
Bjorn Wettstein: That is probably the best of all questions. The reason we do not use Hawk-Eye on clay probably is because of the ball mark. You could have a situation where Hawk-Eye is called, Hawk-Eye says the ball was out, you go down look at the ball mark and it is clearly in. What do you do then? Do you turn Hawk-Eye off? It is tricky, like in everything in life, even Hawk-Eye has a margin of error. As our eyes do too. If we used Hawk-Eye on clay that would probably mean we would not be allowed to make any ball mark inspections, even though you can clearly see the ball was out.
MM: There have been complaints from some players that umpires are less likely to over rule now because they just wait for the players to challenge the call. Do you feel that you over rule less now?
Bjorn Wettstein: There is probably the tendency to wait a fraction longer because the players have a chance to use Hawk-Eye. I think that is pretty individual. Some umpires use the rule a bit less; some umpires do it exactly like they always did. Personally I continue to rule like I did before, because it is the way we see it. We have just seen in the last few days of this tournament over rules happen even with Hawk-Eye and not really less frequent. There was an adjustment phase when Hawk-Eye came onto the market, no one was really certain what do we do now? Do we step in? Don’t we step in? The player has a chance to challenge anyway. Umpires, we rule the way we see it.
MM: There is a general consensus among tennis fans regarding the inconsistent application at times of the time violation rule in ATP and ITF Grand Slam tournaments. The ATP 25 second rule between points differs by five seconds from that in place at Grand Slams. In your opinion would having a shot clock which is used in the NBA on court, be beneficial so that everyone on court can see the time ticking down in between serves?
Bjorn Wettstein: Yes there are different time rules but that is not for me to judge why. Actually I have never thought about having a shot clock on court. Personally I don’t think having a shot clock on court would be a good idea. It isn’t always so clear cut; also it depends on the circumstance. I do not think we have to go that far and say now it is exactly 20 seconds and everyone sees it, and now it is whatever time violation. It puts more pressure on play. I would say a player has to look up at the shot clock and think to himself I can’t towel off now or whatever. I think they should still be room for common sense. Obviously we have to follow the rules; it has to be within the times. Sometimes there are circumstances where you can allow a few extra seconds. Having a shot clock on the court would add too much pressure.
MM: Do you have a memorable match you have officiated?
Bjorn Wettstein: There have been many memorable matches, several Grand Slam finals. Maybe the most memorable at the present moment was last year’s Australian Open girls’ singles final on Rod Laver Arena, which I chaired. All the Grand Slam finals that I have chaired would definitely be on top of the list.
I would like to thank Mr. Bjorn Wettstein who graciously gave me his time for this interview. I would also like to thank Nicola Abercrombie Tennis NSW Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Mr. Glen Toland, President of ANSW. Assistant Chief of Officials, Apia International, Sydney and Mr. Martin Oosthuysen Tennis NSW Officiating Development Coordinator.