The Best Seat In The House
Mylene Mukhar | April 12, 2018
Can you imagine being on the same court as Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal? Thanks to her job as a line umpire, Michelle Wilson, the USTA NorCal Adult Tournaments Coordinator by day, had that opportunity. Her husband, Chris Wilson, was the Chair Umpire for the Roger Federer and Jack Sock match during Match for Africa in San Jose, CA. Michelle and Chris are both tennis officials and their story started with an interest in it, but turned into wonderful personal and professional experiences.
Chris Wilson, a Legal Assistant for a Workers’ Compensation Defense Law Firm by day, caught the officiating bug when he was in college. “Our College Coach was an umpire and asked if any of us were interested in being an umpire possibly during the US Open,” Chris said. “Only two of us did the training but that’s where it all started for me.” Not only did his officiating career start then, but “we wouldn’t be together if it weren’t for umpiring,” Chris acknowledged, as he smiled and glanced over to Michelle.ADVERTISEMENT
Michelle’s path is different as she decided to focus on being a line umpire. “I got into officiating because USTA NorCal was offering line umpiring classes at ClubSport Pleasanton, and I thought it was interesting, so I gave it a chance,” Michelle recalled. “I’m someone who had to work for it, but it was definitely worth the time. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t get discouraged and keep trying.”
Persistence would prove worth it for Michelle. She experiences tennis in a different way, but it is as exciting to her. Michelle (as a line umpire), and Chris (as a chair umpire) officiated at many professional events including the US Open and Indian Wells. Chris worked at all four Grand Slams, two Olympic Games, Davis Cup ties, and had the honor of being a chair umpire for three US Open finals: the 2000 Junior Boy's finals, the 2004 Mixed Doubles finals, and the 2007 Women's Doubles Final. When she didn’t work the events, Michelle was able to follow Chris. They got to visit places together they wouldn’t have gone to if it weren’t for officiating. “My favorite tournament was the Men’s Challenger in Bermuda because we worked during the day and visited when we were done. It’s one of those places we would have never gone otherwise.”
“Chris took me to Niagara Falls after work one time during a tournament,” Michelle jumped in, “and I got to be on court with four legends during Hit for Haiti, these are just a few memories from being an official, so it’s just really fun being out there.” Chris and Michelle traveled as officials, but one of the many advantages of this job is flexibility. “You can tailor it to what works for you. You can be a chair umpire, line judge, or roving umpire, and if you want to travel you can work your way up to working at the professional tournaments, but you don’t have to. There are many opportunities in Northern California.” There are so many levels of officiating that you can work at the grassroots level, at local tournaments, professional circuit, college matches, ITF tournaments, whatever fits you.
“We’re always looking for more officials here,” Chris added. Both Chris and Michelle get to see future top players when officiating, such as Andy Roddick or Robby Ginepri in 2000 during their US Open junior final that Chris umpired. Even if you choose not to travel, you get to see great tennis. “A lot of them are the same players you’ll see on the pro tour, so you never know who you’ll see.”
The same social aspect many tennis players enjoy, Chris and Michelle found in officiating. “You make friends with other umpires, for example a lot of people we started with are still good friends,” Michelle told us. “Some of Chris’ groomsmen were officials he met when he was coming up,” she quickly added.
Chris and Michelle both believe that it is very rewarding to officiate at local tournaments and league events in NorCal, which is where the biggest need for officials is in every section. They really enjoy helping the junior and adult players play in a fair environment and helping them understand the rules better. They both agree that it is a great experience to be a part of each event they work to help ensure they are successful.
Lastly, there are so many ways to give back or be involved in tennis, but with officiating; you make it what you want it to be. Michelle summarized it best. “These are the best seats in the house and you get paid for it, what’s better?”