As the tournament referee at the All England Championships, 53-year-old Andrew Jarrett has one of the most challenging jobs in tennis—managing the sport’s most popular annual event. In his fifth year after taking over from the immensely recognizable Alan Mills, Jarrett was part of at least one historic change at Centre Court—the retractable roof. In a phone interview, the Championships’ 13th referee goes behind the scenes of the world’s most revered and oldest tennis tournament. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Despite having to deal with tradition such as all-white attire, salutations, etiquette, why do many players still dream of Wimbledon more than any other tournament?
There is a respect for tradition. Sometimes we like to laugh at them, but once they’re lost, people will look back with nostalgia. Tradition makes it unique. There are few places, if any, that actually do all-white clothing. So if, for example, you see people playing in white tennis clothing and green courts that has no advertising around it, it’s almost sure that the tournament is going to be Wimbledon. You could recognize it from a photograph; it has achieved brand recognition that marketers around the world aspire to achieve out of a given product. Wimbledon has created a unique brand now. The more the rest of the world changes, the more people seem to value old traditions.
Man in charge: Andrew Jarrett with his inseparable walkie-talkie. Graham Chadwick/Daily Mail
For years players have complained that Wimbledon comes too close to the French Open.
If somebody loses early at the French Open, they’ve got nearly four weeks to be ready for Wimbledon. If somebody goes to the final at the French, then obviously that is cut down to two weeks. So it all depends on how many people reach the latter stages, which, in reality, are few. The change is not as great as it used to be because it’s not simply switching from playing baseline tennis to suddenly playing serve and volley. These days, many players play from the baseline even at Wimbledon.
Critics say having the middle Sunday off amounts to losing a day’s worth of play.
There’s a practical reason behind it. Grass courts need rest unlike clay or hard courts where it does not matter how many days you play. The middle Sunday is valuable for our ground staff to water the courts and give them more than a 24-hour rest. It gives the courts a chance to have a good drink and recover for the second week.
Do you think the fifth set should be decided by a tie-break, as some people believe, especially after the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut first round match last year that lasted over 11 hours?
Ask people with limited tennis knowledge about Mahut and Isner, they’d know them because of that match, which has become a part of Wimbledon and tennis folklore. There are plenty of matches that will end 7-6 in the final set which we won’t remember. What do we want—a lot of matches that finished nicely which we don’t remember or some special occasions? Both sides have some valid arguments, we respect them. But we also celebrate that the world’s longest tennis match ever took place here at Wimbledon. We’re proud of it.
Some players tend to get offended on being made to play on outside courts. How do you handle player egos?
We attempt to be fair to all players and consider their needs. We also balance them with the need of our spectators, our television audience and the good of the sport. If we ever went through the Championships where nobody complained, we’d be living in dreamland.
What is the most bizarre request you have received from any player?
Every second year, we coincide with a major soccer championship, like the World Cup or the European Championships. It’s not a great surprise that some players might want us to reschedule their match so they can go back to the hotel to watch their country or club. If it doesn’t affect anyone, we would rather help than hinder.
Unlike the Australian and US Open, players are not interviewed on court right after their matches, except the final. Why?
There are lots of differences between Wimbledon and the other three Grand Slams. I love the differences. If they’re all the same, it would be a shame. Similarly, players are not introduced when they step on to the court before the start of the men’s finals, unlike the US Open. Let’s enjoy the differences; there is no right or wrong.
‘McEnroe was tough on umpires’
John Parry, 71, officiated at Wimbledon as a chair umpire and line umpire for 25 years, with a greater number of finals (eight) than any other. This year, he is the voice of Wimbledon—announcing rain delays at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, and playing master of ceremonies at the final. Parry spoke over the phone about all things Wimbledon. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Player tantrums are an umpire’s nightmare but the crowd loves them.
The behaviour has improved hugely in recent years, thanks to the code of conduct. It was a big problem when I started (in 1974) without a code of conduct. Till about 10 years ago, there were some difficult players around. But spectators have always liked a few fireworks—it spices up the atmosphere.
You can’t be serious: John McEnroe was outspoken but he never cheated. Central Press/Getty Images
The toughest player to officiate.
John McEnroe. He was tough on umpires; fiery, and needed a lot of handling. But he never tried to cheat. He was just outspoken, noisily outspoken. There were other players who would try and influence the match in some way. McEnroe never did that.
The most memorable match you have officiated.
Two finals come to mind—the 1987 match between Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. Then in 1989, I chaired the match between Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. Also, my last Wimbledon final as chair umpire was the mixed doubles in 2003 between Leander Paes and Martina Navratilova against Andy Ram and Anastasia Rodionova. Navratilova equalled Billie Jean King’s record at Wimbledon with that one so, obviously, that was memorable.
Your worst day in office.
The toughest match I ever chaired was a fourth-round match in 1983 between McEnroe and Bill Scanlon of the US. They had had a big fallout earlier in the year and Scanlon had made some fairly strong accusations about McEnroe, so there was no love lost and the crowd was just waiting for a huge showdown. The tension was unbelievable and dramatic. As I recall, McEnroe won 7-5, 7-6, 7-6.
The other big incident happened in the quarter-finals between Andre Agassi and Boris Becker. That was the year Agassi won Wimbledon (1992). I overruled him on match point and I was wrong as I saw it on TV replay hours after the match.
Agassi was tremendous about that. He didn’t lose his temper at all. But I had made a mistake and it wasn’t a great time to do it, when Agassi was serving for the match. The next game he broke Becker, went on to win the match and eventually the Championships. Had he lost the match to Becker, I’d have probably gone down in history, don’t you think?
How do chair umpires adjust in such long matches without toilet breaks?
They are permitted toilet breaks. What you probably don’t see on TV is the vacant chair, for example, when the player goes for a toilet break. That vacant umpire chair indicates that she/he too has gone for a toilet break. I’ve never actually had to get out of the chair. You always make sure to visit the loo before you go on to the court.
Kayezad E. Adajania