Black History Officials Spotlight:
Father Paul Arinze
Erin Maher | February 20, 2018
Tennis players may make the shots, but tennis officials call them. As part of our celebration of Black History Month, USTA.com is featuring some of the African-Americans who have risen through the ranks to become prominent officials, helping to diversify the line-calling corps. In this installment, we chat with Father Paul Arinze.
As a certified bronze level badge umpire, Catholic priest Father Paul Arinze often trades in his clerical collar for officiating uniforms. The Nigerian native has made officiating a part-time career for himself, often traveling the globe to call lines at some of the most prestigious events in the world, including Wimbledon, the US Open, the Olympics and the Paralympics.
USTA.com: How did you become an official?
Father Paul Arinze: I sat about in Madison, watching college tennis at UW Madison (University of Wisconsin-Madison). ADVERTISEMENT The head referee knew I was a Catholic priest and we started talking, and that’s when he recruited me to start officiating.
USTA.com: Where are you usually found on the court?
Father Paul Arinze: I’ve pretty much done every event. I’m an ITF Bronze badge chair umpire. I’m also a line umpire, and also a review official, so I do all three depending on what they need me for.
USTA.com: What is your favorite tournament to work?
Father Paul Arinze: To work? Oh, you’re going to ask me that question, really?. (Laughs). My favorite tournament to work would be the US Open. The New York crowd is unlike any other crowd and it’s a good atmosphere in New York. It’s long hours but it’s fun.
USTA.com: What was the most memorable match that you officiated?
Father Paul Arinze: The most memorable match would have to be when I did the boys’ singles final at the US Open between Jack Sock and Denis Kudla. I think it was in 2010. That was exciting for me. I’ve done a lot of big matches, you know, big players in big arenas. Doing doubles is fun. [I was] a line umpire for the men’s semifinal at the Australian Open for a few years. Calling lines for Nadal, Murray and Berdych…. Those are fun matches.
USTA.com: What do you enjoy most about being an official?
Father Paul Arinze: I think more than anything else, it sticks you right in the thick of things. So you’re right there, you watch the players and how they compete. Also, you’re there to make sure that everything is played fairly between the players. You know the rules of tennis and you control the match. You get to see tennis, [but] you have to be focused to do this job well.
USTA.com: What is life like off the tennis court?
Father Paul Arinze: When I’m not officiating tennis, I’m a Catholic priest. I have a parish, with a school. So I work in the parish, go to the school, talk with the kids, do mass, help the people. Visit people who are ill, sick in the hospital, and do everything that priests would normally do, which I enjoy very much.