By Meghan Von Brook
"If you have a job that you love, you never have to work a day in your life." If that old adage is true, then Tony Nimmons hasn’t worked a day in the last 17 years.
During that period of time, Nimmons has worked as a tennis official all over the world. "I found something early on that was new and fresh, and it turned me on," he says. "I have a passion for tennis. I just love this game."
Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, Nimmons didn’t have many opportunities to love—or even to play—tennis. Instead, he was drawn to other sports, dabbling in everything from basketball to fencing. But once he hit college and realized his chances of becoming the next Michael Jordan were slim, he felt a calling to the court. He recalls, "I picked up a racquet, started playing tennis and fell in love with it immediately."
As luck would have it, Nimmons was playing tennis in a local park one day when he met Cecil Hollins, who was a Grand Slam Chair Umpire for the International Tennis Federation. Nimmons expressed an interest in officiating to Hollins, who introduced him to Eileen Leonard, who was responsible for assigning officials in the USTA Eastern Section. Leonard gave Nimmons a tryout as a chair umpire during a junior tournament, and soon Nimmons began officiating in the New York area. He was invited to Wimbledon by Hollins as a spectator in 1994, and to a US Open umpires’ party soon thereafter. That was where he met Sande Schwan, then the national chairman of officials for the USTA. Nimmons sent Schwan his resume, and before the year was up, he had a job. "I got a gig traveling the United States, learning how to become a chair umpire," Nimmons says. "I was just in the right place at the right time." A few years later, he was invited to become a part of the ATP Tour’s umpire team and began traveling the world.
In his career, Nimmons has officiated three Australian Opens, six French Opens, two Wimbledons, and 16 consecutive US Opens—the event he calls his favorite. "I love the atmosphere, the night lights, the incredible fans and the fifth-set set tie-break," he says. "In late August and early September, it’s the greatest show on earth, and it’s close to home."
In 2009, Nimmons left the ATP and returned to the USTA, this time as a coordinator in the Officials Department. Coming back to the USTA has rejuvenated his passion for the game and also gave him the opportunity to teach others. "I’m having a great time. I’m seeing the world, I’m giving back and helping people," Nimmons explains. "I love it all."
"Tony is now considered one of the top chair umpires in the world," says Richard Kaufman, USTA Director of Officials and US Open Chief Umpire. "He is an important contributor to the USTA Officials Department when it comes to training, recruiting and retaining officials."
Nimmons also was responsible for helping create the Officials Inclusion Council (OIC) in 2009. The OIC is made up of approximately 20 officials ranging from grass roots through the professional ranks, covering the 17 USTA sections. The Council is tasked with improving conditions for officials in the U.S. and helping grow the game of tennis. Within Nimmons’ role on the OIC, his primary personal goals include creating a more healthy culture when it comes to officiating, as well as recruiting as many interested young minds as possible. "I’d love to see more people enjoy officiating," he says. "I’d like to see the United States on top of the world."
It’s abundantly clear that Nimmons enjoys what he does, and he feels that’s a characteristic that’s imperative for those who might want to follow in his footsteps. "You have to love the game," he says. "It’s easy to pick up the rulebook and read the rules of tennis—that’s black and white. But as you progress up the ladder of officiating, you have to use good judgment and love what you do. You can’t stop wanting to learn, because no two matches are the same."
If you want to catch Nimmons in action, you’ll fi nd him presiding over numerous matches at this year’s US Open. You can’t miss him—he’ll be the one smiling from ear to ear.