how to become a tennis umpire

How to become a tennis umpire

Becoming a tennis umpire can be an exciting and stressful job, as it is refereeing in any sport.

The tennis umpire is responsible for ensuring all the regulations and keeping the score accurate. He also has to communicate his decisions in a timely, accurate, and assertive way to all involved in a tennis match, especially those playing it.

It can be a full-time job and career or just a way to earn some money on the side while enjoying his favorite sport.

We will guide you through the procedure to become a tennis umpire, what kind of umpires are there in a tennis match, what the ranking system looks like, the variety of skills necessary to be a successful tennis umpire, and, finally, how much can you expect to earn officiating tennis matches.

On this Article

Procedure to become a tennis umpire

To become a tennis umpire, you must take an annual written test for the level you wish to officiate. 

There are several certifications to attain to become a top-level tennis umpire.

Also, at each level of a tennis umpire career, a data card is issued to record the officiating experience. To pass to the next level, a certain level and a number of experiences in the previous stage are required.

Besides that, you will need extensive knowledge of the tennis rules to pass the written tests and 20/20 vision in each eye (corrected or uncorrected). The procedure for officiating and ensuring tennis doubles rules or singles is the same.

USTA tennis umpires ranking system

There are several stages of the USTA tennis umpires ranking system. Each level allows a person to officiate more complex and important tennis tournaments with more visibility and pay.

They are:

  • Provisional Umpire
  • Sectional Umpire
  • USTA Roving Umpire
  • USTA Chair Umpire
  • National Chair Umpire
  • Professional Chair Umpire

Types of tennis umpires and their responsibilities

Line Umpire

The line umpire is the first level of tennis officiating.

Their responsibility is to evaluate if a ball is “in” or “out” on the line (or lines, depending on how many line umpires are present in a match) of the court they are deemed to observe.

If they manage the baseline, they are also responsible for ensuring the serving player does not commit a foot fault (having a foot on the baseline when serving).

If they observe a fault or a ball out, they must yell “Out” or “Fault” loudly and clearly.

In high-level tournaments, their job is made more accessible by the help of a set of electronic sensor systems, also called “eagle-eye”. This is the kind of animated replay you see on TV when a player challenges a decision. 

Chair Umpire

In a tennis match, the chair umpire is at the following level of the tennis officiating ranking. 

They are responsible if the competition is played under the rules of tennis and can overturn a line umpire’s decision if they wish to.

They are also responsible for calling out the score and keeping time – for example, if a player delays their serve (he only has a limited time to serve between points), it is the line umpire’s responsibility to call a fault.

Its place on the court is on the side of the tennis net, in high chairs, for a complete and unbiased view of the court.

Referee

The referee is above the chair umpire.

He is the one that has to make a decision when a player disputes the decision of the chair umpire.

Besides that, he also has other responsibilities, such as deciding when it’s time to suspend a game for weather reasons, supervising the tournament draw, and escorting the medical trainer onto the court, if a medical timeout ensues.

They are also responsible for ensuring no coaching happens in a match and supervising the fans, staff, and players involved.

Chief Umpire

The chief umpire is the top referee in a tennis match or tournament.

They are the ones that have the final decision in a dispute situation and have the power to overturn every previous ranking’s decisions.

Besides that, they are also responsible for assigning the line and chair umpires and the referee. At last, they are also responsible for keeping the official scorecard of a match and dealing with the media, if needed.

Skills needed to become a tennis umpire

20/20 Vision

This is a staple in tennis regulations around the world. Officiating tennis requires observing the ball at astonishing speeds and deciding based on its position on the court, so this requirement makes perfect sense.

Ability to de-escalate situations

Many decisions are disputed, and the players get angry, even if the umpire made the correct decision.

While some players are professional and respectful, others have conflicting personalities that make the officiating job much harder (think of John McEnroe and Nick Kyrgios, to name a few).

Tennis umpires must remain calm and follow the protocol, ensuring that the tennis match continues in a professional way.

Sharp Focus

Tennis umpires cannot have the luxury of wandering their mind when officiating – a tough decision can happen at any time in a tennis match.

They need to observe the plays thoroughly and attentively to make the correct decision every time.

Ability to speak various languages

While a tennis umpire does not need to be a polyglot, they must be able to communicate with players of diverse origins and languages.

Besides that, they must identify swearing in many languages, as it is strictly forbidden to swear in tennis, to keep a respectful environment.

The more a tennis umpire officiates important tournaments, the more this skill is needed.

Confidence and voice projection

One must communicate their decisions clearly and loudly to officiate a tennis match.

Also, they have to remain confident and sure of their decisions, even if disputed.

How much do tennis umpires earn?

How much tennis umpires make depends on their badge level and the type of tournament they are officiating. 

Low-level one can earn between 30.000$ to 45.000$ and progress up to 120.000$ per year as they climb the ranks. Also, all their expenses are paid, meaning travel, hotels, and food, so it’s definitely a plus to travel the world and get paid for it.

If they officiate Grand Slams, the pay can reach up to 400.000$ / 500.000$.

If you do not wish to pursue a career in tennis umpiring and just want to make a hobby of it, it can be an exciting way to win a few bucks while enjoying the great sport of tennis.

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