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Wimbledon fans, here’s what it’s really like to work as a tennis umpire


Kelly Thomson, 30, is a silver badge chair umpire. She lives in Lincoln with her mum, a teacher, and their dog, Radley

My alarm goes off…

At 8.30am on a match day. I’ll check emails to make sure game times haven’t changed and put on my uniform, which changes depending on the tournament. For Wimbledon, I wear a Ralph Lauren blazer and shirt with trousers or a skirt. I’ll have cereal or scrambled eggs on toast at the hotel I’m staying at and head to the site.

I’m responsible for…

Taking charge of tennis matches at Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon and the French Open. As chair umpire, I am accountable for everything on court, from player behaviour to line calls: you need 20/20 vision. Sometimes players take frustrations out on us, but there’s a disciplinary code to fine them for bad behaviour which helps. 

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I got my job…

After working as a line umpire at Wimbledon aged 17 – I played county tennis before then and umpired in my summer holidays. The overseeing umpire decided
I had talent so I trained as a chair umpire. My first match was a disaster and I ended up crying because the players kept telling me I was wrong. Eventually I was selected for the US Open in New York and after studying in Kazakhstan and Miami, I became a silver chair umpire in 2015 – there are only 22 silver and gold badge umpires in the world. This year will be my 13th Wimbledon.

My typical day…

Starts when I arrive at the tennis court an hour before the match. I’ll ensure I know how to pronounce players’ names, then check there are no balls on court, the height
of the net, which is always 3ft, and set up tablets which keep the score. Times have changed with technology; we used to score the game with just pencil and paper. The players arrive, we’ll do the coin toss and I’ll chair the match. A match typically lasts between one to three hours but I did a men’s singles recently at Roland Garros which was over four hours in 36-degree heat. That was tough. I drink water but have to be careful because I don’t get bathroom breaks. Post-match I’ll go to the referee’s office to sign score cards and check the result is correct. I’ll have a quick lunch, a sandwich or jacket potato, and then I might have a second match. My day lasts 12 hours, although in the winter it’s more relaxed. I focus on developing young umpires and assisting with their schedules.

Read more: Foul play – why is there sexism in sport?

My most memorable work moment…

Was when I chaired the 2016 Ladies’ Wimbledon doubles final with the Williams sisters. They’re such amazing players, the atmosphere was incredible.  

The worst part of my job…

Is the amount of time I’m away, usually from May until October each year. I’m about to start a six-week stint living out of a suitcase. Sometimes you just want to be in your own bed.

Read more: The woman who won Wimbledon seven times

The best part of my job…

Is getting paid to travel the world. I’ve been everywhere from South Korea to New York to see the best tennis players compete in front of me. I love it.

After work…

I’ll exercise with a PT – sitting upright for long periods is tough on my posture. Then I have dinner with other umpires: they’re my second family. After, I’ll watch NCIS and try to sleep by 11.30pm.

Get on court this summer; visit lta.org.co.uk/play to find your nearest coach, court or club


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