Saturday, July 6, 2013

Carlos Bernardes Interview: A view from the top of the chair

There are a few chair umpires in the tennis world who have resonated with fans and have become household names just as much as the players are. Carlos Bernardes is one of those umpires and the popular Brazilian with the infectious smile has been ruling the court for over 20 years.
I caught up with Bernardes in Paris during the French Open to know what the view is like from the top of that chair on court.

How long have you been a tennis umpire and how did you get to become one?
More than 20 years. We had a tennis event in Brazil, in Sao Paulo, it was the Federation Cup. And I was a tennis teacher at the time and they put in the newspaper ‘we need 129 umpires urgently’, because it was a big event. It was the old format with 16 countries. So I signed up and I was there and I liked it. I started to do more events. And then at one point they asked me what I was going to do because I was travelling a lot to the tennis and we need you as a teacher and I found myself choosing to become an umpire.

Did you ever play when you were younger?
I played a little bit but not professionally. Just some tournaments for fun, nothing special. What do you think is the biggest difference in tennis now compared to 20 years ago when you started your career as an umpire? The speed of the ball has increased a lot and the players they are much fitter than before. There’s more technology working for the tennis, for the racquets, the courts, the balls. This changed a lot. If you look at the matches 20 years ago and look now it’s amazing. The speed is fantastic. Of course you have to adapt like the players. You get to the match and you see that the ball is much faster. You adapt before the situation. Like the hard courts and the grass. Like next week will be grass courts, then you adapt and you know things will be faster than clay.

How did the introduction of technology like hawk-eye for example affect your job?
The hawk-eye just came to help everybody. Because now the players are correct only 30 per cent of the complaints when they appeal. So let’s say if there are three complaints in a match, only one will be correct. I think this is good for everybody, for the players, for the people who are watching and maybe one day all the courts will have that. Now only just one tournament can do that. I think it’s helping us. Because of the speed and the technology I talked about before, something like hawk-eye is really helpful. The players can complain, see the result, then continue to play tennis.

What about the fact that some players complain that umpires are less likely to overrule now because they just wait for the players to challenge the call. Do you feel that you overrule less now?
No, at the beginning it was like I said, you adapt to the situation. But now everybody works like the normal courts. What happens now is that there are some very close calls and everybody hesitates a little bit. But we still work in the same way. And the statistics prove that things didn’t change too much. It just helps the players calm down a little bit, because now if they complain, they need to ask. And sometimes they ask too much and they are wrong and they need to calm down because they know they are running out of challenges.

What about the time violation rule, some umpires have spoken out and said they don’t like it but they have to call it, what your take on it?
They are trying to use the rule that is already there and they are trying to help even the players because now with the new one, you still have the second serve to play. This helps a lot because the players are faster. If you look at the matches last year, and the matches this year, you see that the players are playing a lot faster because of this rule. They have adapted to play faster and this is good. I think by the end of the year everybody’s going to be on the same page.

Which players do you feel give you the hardest time on the court?
Sometimes you’d think that can happen but it could be the nicest player in the world, depending on the situation. I always say that it’s not the player that’s the problem it’s the situation that put him to do whatever he does. Because the player they can’ t be crazy all the time, they cannot get into the court and start doing something. They have rules to follow to, but it’s more the situation.

What about the players taking out their phones on court these days and snapping photos of marks and things like that, do you think that should be allowed?
It is a violation, it’s in the rule book and everything. The problem is that sometimes they want to do something creative but then they need to pay. It’s fun though. The guy is creative, it’s funny.

What happens when you make a mistake, do you talk to the players after the match and apologise?
Mistakes, we make them every time. We try to be honest with the guys and say ‘listen, I made a mistake, what can I do? I saw it this way and we need to move on’. And that’s the best way to handle the situation, you can’t keep thinking about it because then it would be worse. We sit together with the players and talk about it. After the match, it’s another life, you move on. The match is over and nothing is going to change.

What were the most memorable matches for you as an umpire?
Many many matches. One special one was the first final of the US Open, because it was the first Grand Slam final for me. For an ATP chair umpire, it’s like an honour to be part of that. And Wimbledon 2011 was a special one because it was like a dream. My first tournament to watch on TV was Wimbledon then it was like ‘I’m here and I’m doing the final’.

What do you enjoy the most about your job and what do you enjoy the least?
I enjoy a lot the way the players are playing. They are playing some fantastic tennis. You saw the Nadal-Djokovic semi-final it was incredible. I enjoy tennis, I enjoy sports. Maybe the travelling is the most difficult. The calendar is long, we travel like 30 weeks a year, this is the worst part. I will not do the US Open this year, will take some time off.

You’re off for a few days here in Paris, what will you do?
I’ll try to be a tourist. We have some paper work to do for tennis but I try to enjoy the place. It’s fantastic. I try to know a little bit more the people and the city.

Do you like making the trip down to Dubai for the ATP event there?
I’ve been to Dubai three times. Dubai is fantastic, it’s a great place. I hope I come back one more time. I want to see after so many years of not going there how different the city is. I want to see the buildings and the hotels and everything. That club is beautiful. I played golf over there and it was funny because I hit the ball and almost broke a window. I was so bad.

A version of this interview appeared in the daily newspaper Sport360 on June 13 2013. 

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