Bob Hyatt: My Life in the Fast Lane Of Tennis
Hi, I'm one of those tennis officials that has been around for years. When I referee a regional or sectional adult championship, I am told, “I remember you from last year”. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Did I make a good impression, or did I screw up from last year and they remember it?
Anyway, I started my tennis love at the age of 13 competing in juniors. Back then there was no USTA; it was called the United States Lawn Tennis Association. I guess back then US Tennis wanted to be on the same level as English tennis. Even though there were very few grass courts in the US at that time. So US Tennis dropped the “Lawn” out of their name.
Tennis has been a part of my life since those days playing in juniors. A little story: I enjoyed juniors, even though I considered myself not great at tennis. It was because it was an avenue to meet girls who played tennis. So, I have come a long way since then, played high school tennis, played on the Air Force service team, played USTA as an adult, became a professional tennis instructor with certification with the PTR, certified USTA Referee, certified ITA referee and chair judge, and coached high school tennis. I thought I had seen it all in tennis, but I still get amazed to this day. Players don’t realize that I am a walking rule book. Officials are tested every year and every other year for eyesight.
As years go by, I have seen it all, and heard it all. Once I worked at a tournament, and the tournament desk was a Winnebago. At another tournament, women showed up with designer racquet bags, men showed up with no racquet bags at all. Get this, 2.5 women broke a net strap; that’s really hard-hitting. Before COVID-19, ball boys/girls would hold towels for the pro players, without rubber gloves. What’s with that? I have seen many adult championships, but one in particular stood out:, the 3.5 players were sitting in the officials’ tent, even eating the officials’ food/snacks and drinks.
Have you ever wondered how the scoring for tennis was derived? Back in merry old England, the big shots (aristocrats) did not want the little shots (peasants) to play their game, so the big shots came up with the scoring to confuse the little shots about how to keep score. Why LOVE? Why DEUCE? Why ADVANTAGE? It’s much easier to play as we do with our beginning juniors: 1-2-3-4-game. Some Englishman must have been drunk when he thought it out.
We have come a long way with this game from those days. When I played juniors, (the wooden racquet era), I used one racquet, as did everyone else playing the game at that time: a Jack Kramer, with Gut strings. I came to the court with a racquet in hand wearing all white, and Keds tennis shoes. No towel, no water bottle; I dried the sweat off on my whites and arm bands (wore two bands, one on each arm), and used the ball can as my water bottle. There was no Gatorade back then; we all ate Mars Bars for our energy.
Nowadays, look at players: towels, maybe two or three; one used to sit on, extra-large water bottles, gallon size; matching Federer or Nadal outfits. It’s different on the women’s side: they don’t want to wear the same outfit as others at the tournament. And yes, they also bring two bags now to the court, with some having four racquets. What’s with the bags?
Yes, tennis is a game of love and hate. Love it to win, hate it to lose. Remember the song, “Life is a highway, I want to ride it all night long”? Well, my take on that song is “Tennis is a highway, I want to play it all night long”. And that’s what’s happening on the pro tour now: playing into the wee hours of the morning. Just recently, a ranked number one on WTA, Iga Swiatek went on court at 3 am to play a scheduled match. I’m sorry, folks, that is entirely too late to play. If I were the referee for that tournament, I would have moved the match to the next day, but nobody asked me to be the referee for that tournament.
If you see me at your next tournament, rest assured that the officiating staff will be there to assist you with your matches. Officials have a wealth of tennis knowledge, and you 2.5s out there, don’t be shy to ask questions. We all started our tennis careers at that level. See you on the court.
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