What many know is that she dons the hat of Human Resource manager with finesse by the day, but what many didn’t quite know until now was that she has also been donning the cap of a tennis umpire since the last 12 years!
City-based Supriya Chatterjee who has been officiating various National and International matches in the span of her career is all set to make her debut at the Wimbledon 2019. Chatterjee has been selected as an umpire for one of the four grand slams which the oldest and the most prestigious one. The feat comes to her after umpiring tournaments such as Wimbledon Junior, KEB Hana Bank Korea Open, Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open, WTA Mumbai Open, etc.
We caught up with Supriya over a one-on-one as she spoke about her love for tennis, her stint as an umpire and everything in between.
Here are the excerpts of the conversation:
Q) How does it feel to become the umpire of ‘Wimbledon’ - the oldest and the most prestigious championship in the world?
A) I actually cannot describe the feeling! But to say the least, I’m extremely privileged to be associated with a tournament which is so prestigious and held in such high regards in the sport. Every tennis official wishes to be a part of the Wimbledon at some point in their career and works hard for it. And here I am with my moment.
Q) How did umpiring instead of playing interest you? Tell us about your journey so far.
A) My stint as an umpire started 12 years back. My father, Santosh Chatterjee - who is a veteran tennis coach, introduced me into officiating. He asked me to give it a shot while I was still doing my graduation. I went ahead and applied for the ‘Kingfisher Open ATP’ tournament which was to be held in Mumbai. Soon after, I got my selection call and that was my first match as an umpire. I felt good after my first match and got all the more excited about the prospects of officiating. I factored in my love for the sport, the level of tennis that I would get to see, the talented players whose matches I would get to officiate, etc. and decided to pursue it. During my first match in Mumbai, I got to interact with some prominent officials who enlightened me more about umpiring. I stayed back and officiated some more matches.
I wanted to follow my aspirations further by umpiring matches under the International Tennis Federation (ITF), for which I had to clear certain examinations. Of the many levels, I went on to appear for two of them, of which the second level was a white badge level certification. I’m now officially ‘ITF Level 2 White Badge’ umpire. This happened nine years ago. For the next five years, I was umpiring only at the matches that were happening in India, because I was simultaneously studying and had later bagged a job. Eventually, after those five years when I felt settled in my job, I started dividing more of my time and attention to umpiring. In the last four years, I umpired at many national and international tournaments such as KEB Hana Bank Korea Open, Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open, etc.
As umpires, we too get evaluated and earn points when we officiate the matches, which get us a rating. The points and ratings help the decision-making authority to place you at matches of higher levels. So the higher the tournament you umpire and the better your rating, the more chances you have at making it to significant tournament.
Q) As an umpire you need to thrive under immense pressure. What other qualities does one need to possess to become a good umpire?
A) Well, being an umpire require one to possess quite-a-many qualities. Firstly, one needs to be extremely focused and have a high concentration level. A good match goes on to two-to-three hours and it is necessary to keep the level of attention just the same from the first minute until the last minute. Also, one is required to maintain a cool, calm and composed demeanor at all times during the match especially when the players get aggressive and a conflict arises. Simply put, you have to be physically and mentally present in the field and shut yourself off anything apart from the match for those couple of hours because the players and their careers are at the stake of the decisions the umpires make. And yes, one needs to be ready to endure the heat. (laughs)
Q) What is the best and worst part of your job?
A) My job itself is the best part! Apart from that, there are many good things about it, such as – umpiring matches of some exceedingly good players, meeting new officials during every match and getting to learn from them, having notable officials with experience mentor you and give you a feedback about your umpiring, getting to watch the tournament until the finals and of course, travelling to new cities and countries.
The worst part would be that even though we get to travel to such amazing cities, we barely get to go around sightseeing it. (laughs)
Q) What is more difficult to be – line umpire or chair umpire?
A) I work as a line umpire and a chair umpire and out of the two I would say being a line umpire is a bit tougher than the other. As a chair umpire, you get a team of line umpires. Lines umpires are put on rotation wherein one hour we are on one court, then we get a break for half an hour and then next hour we are on some other court. If a line umpire makes a decision which is overruled by the chair umpire, then the chances of that particular line umpire to make it to next day’s matches go down. A line umpire has to make sure that the day-to-day performance and the daily ratings are maintained in order to keep umpiring through the tournament.
Q) Has being a woman umpire in a men’s match ever been a challenge? Do you notice any key difference when you officiate a men’s match v/s a women’s match?
A) I feel no difference while umpiring for a men’s match v/s a women’s match. I believe if you’re good at the chair, the players respect you. From my experience of umpiring all the matches so far, I have never faced any issues in this context. It’s not just that the umpires judge the players but it is also the other way round. So when a player notices how professional the umpire is, they too maintain a professional demeanor and it has nothing to do with gender then. Although yes, the notion that ‘a woman umpire can be easily pressurized’ can be sensed sometimes.
Q) With technology coming in full throttle in many fields, modernists believe that manual umpiring should be replaced with tech-based umpiring. What are your thoughts on this?
A) Lately, technology has been ingested majorly in tennis to assist the umpiring process. For example – when a player doesn’t feel right about the decision, they can challenge it and then the move of the player is evaluated electronically and the decision is kept or altered. So we already have tech playing a good role. In fact, a certain company is now working on having the line umpires be fully replaced by cameras at every line. Umpiring, which is all about decision-making, is players’ centric. So if the technology gives a more accurate decision than the umpires, then why not?! I’m all game for what’s in the best interest of the players. However, one cannot completely replace the umpiring system because certain things such as resolving conflict, maintaining decorum, etc. can only be done by a human being.
Q) Tell us about some of the remarkable moments in your career so far.
A) The best of the best moments for me as an umpire was when I was officiating a wheelchair tournament in line with the Australian Open. It was my first wheelchair event which took place last year. It was incredible to see the players, who were differently-abled, to play as good as any other players out there. They were independent, self-driven and in fact, did not like it if anyone volunteered to help them out. That was inspiring and remarkable, indeed.
Q) What are your future plans as an umpire?
A) This is my first Wimbledon and I wish to be a part of it every year. Other than that, I shall be focusing more to do chair umpiring for other grand slams. I have already been a part of the Australian Open in 2018, so this year I will work towards making it to the US Open and French Open. And maybe some year, I will get to be a part of all the four grand slams.
Q) Any advice for youngsters who wish to make a career in tennis umpiring?
A) Not just umpiring, but this is for everyone who wishes to follow their passion. There will be times where you will be asked to choose between your passion v/s profession or studies and it will be the need of the hour that you will have to focus on the latter. But what is necessary is to figure how to keep the passion alive. There are probably 10 other ways to do so, you just have to figure out on what those are. You don’t really have to give it up. It is absolutely possible to manage and juggle between your passion and profession if you are driven. It is unfortunate to see people with gifted talents let it fade away because they prioritize other aspects or consider themselves busy enough.
And with a smile that is content and eyes wide with dreams, Supriya signs off.
Image source: supriyachatterjee