Youth and 20/20 vision in Indian Wells

The BNP Paribas Open goes down in Coachella Valley every March.

Taking in the action and desert sun from the Indian Wells grandstand.
  • Taking in the action and desert sun from the Indian Wells grandstand.

A chance meeting in the desert provided answers on the requirements for becoming an official at a major professional tennis tournament, like the one at Indian Wells.

Just a 2.5-hour drive from San Diego, the BNP Paribas Tennis Open at Indian Wells was a relatively easy jaunt. Driving up one afternoon to catch an evening session of this prestige professional tennis tournament, we stayed the night and watched the following day’s session before heading home that afternoon.

The route we chose was pretty direct, heading north up Route 163 to Interstate 15 North. Then Interstate 215 to Route 60 East, ultimately connecting with Interstate 10 East. If heading directly to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, you would take Exit 137 on to Washington Street south. The trip is roughly 160 miles, covering over two and a half hours.

Dream job?

An important element of tennis matches is the officiating. I had often wondered about the source of the numerous officials at the various tournaments, seeing the uniformed small squads of men and women working the large competitions. The 2016 BNP Paribas Tennis Open was no exception.

A serendipitous encounter with one of the line judges provided the perfect opportunity to make some inquiries.

The elderly gent attired in the distinctive officiating uniform was very pleasant and open, as we were both taking a break out of the sun. While he sat on some steps leading in to the one of the court venues, I struck up conversation.

“How does one become a line judge?”

In what might have been a slight Italian accent, he told of starting by reaching out to the governing body, in this case the United States Tennis Association. The interested individual contacts the appropriate geographic section, attends some training, takes some tests and then starts officiating at lower, smaller levels.

Over time, he related, the provisional official works his/her way up levels of tournaments. They are regularly evaluated on the accuracy of their calls, the “in” or “out” rulings they make, receiving a rating comparable to the tennis player rating system (3.0, 3.5, 4.0, etc.).

Based on performance, if your ratings are good enough, you can move up.

When asked how long it would take to qualify to officiate at a major tournament such as BNP Paribas Tennis Open, he estimated at least four years. And, he cautioned, you are required to provide certification every two years that your vision is verified as 20/20. (Did he add that point because he detected my bifocals?) As he made this comment, it answered an unasked question, since most of the line judges we had seen at the tournament were, shall we say, “well experienced” and some of the balls are flying at well over 100 MPH.

Perhaps thinking I was considering pursuing becoming a line judge, he smiled and said, “It takes two things. Youth and 20/20 vision.” Continuing, he offered that an individual would want to be younger than 50 to start the process.

Speaking of being an official for over 22 years, there was discernible pride in his eyes and voice. At that point, one of his fellow crewmembers for the upcoming match called out and he quickly departed.

I smiled, thinking of him and the countless others out on the courts that hot afternoon. Working in the background, making their calls, that small army of volunteers. The recruiting poster could read “We want you! If you are young and have 20/20 vision.”

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