What do you do?
Abhishek Mukherjee was there, playing his part in history as Roger Federer clinched his 8th crown at Wimbledon finals 2017. A chair umpire and proud owner of bronze badge, and also a referee with a silver badge, Abhishek was a line umpire when the Swiss maestro fired an ace to seal the match against Marin Cilic.
Abhishek returned to Calcutta early on tuesday. For the 39 year old, having witnessed tennis history from such close quarters was a rare privilege and he was lost for words. “I cannot describe my experience in words. It was magnificent. It’s one of the best experiences in my officiating career,” he said.
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And it has been a distinguished career. Abhishek has featured in three of Federer’s 11 finals at Wimbledon and Sunday’s duty was his 34th Grand Slam assignment. “I had a feeling that this was Federer’s year. I entered the arena when the Swiss star was 3-0 up in the second set as our group was assigned the second turn to officiate after an hour’s duty by the first group,” said Abhishek.
Abhishek Mukherjee can be called the only representation in Grand Slam tennis championship singles matches from India and Bengal for the last 11 years. He is the only international tennis umpire from Bengal and he is the 3rd man in his business from the country. The 38-year-old umpire was a player himself. He was the 5th ranked player in the state.
I grew up in Patna and started with table tennis. I was the state champion in the Under-12 category in 1989 and 1990. Tennis happened when i shifted to Calcutta after school.
“I joined the Sreerampur Club,” he says. “In 1995 India played against Sweden at the Davis Cup. The tournament was held at South Club and I was a ball boy. Two umpires from Australia and England got me interested.”
To be a good player, says the B.Com graduate, he would have had to concentrate more on the game.
“In 1996 I was invited to umpire the All India Grass Court National Tennis Championship at the South Club. I haven’t looked back since,” he says.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
He went to Cuttack to participate in a national championship. But the number of umpires, assigned to officiate matches in that national championship was not adequate. So, he was all of a sudden asked to officiate one of the matches, standing from the line. That was the beginning.
What was the turning point?
He officiated in international matches in Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Bangkok from 2000.
“But my real big break came in 2005 when I was asked to umpire the qualifiers at Wimbledon. In 2006 I was again asked to be there for the qualifiers. In 2007 I was asked to be there for the qualifiers, but the chief referee later asked me if I would like to be there for the main tournament. I umpired matches played by the Williams sisters and Leander Paes. This year I umpired the quarter-finals,” says Mukherjee.
He has also umpired Australian Open till the quarterfinals, including matches played by Maria Sharapova, Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi. And now he has been asked to be an umpire at US Open. He has been a line umpire at the Grand Slams and a chair umpire at the Australian Open junior. He umpired a match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Dubai. He is going to the Beijing Olympic next month. “My dream is to umpire all the Grand Slams. I haven’t been to the French Open yet,” says Mukherjee.
What do you need to qualify as umpire?
In 1997 i cleared the ITF Level I examination for tennis officials from Chennai. Two years later i cleared the ITF Level II exam in Mumbai.
“You need to concentrate, keep yourself updated with all the rules and be disciplined.” And you need confidence. “There are a maximum of 10 line umpires. They can still manage to make a mistake. But the chair umpire has to be right and he has to be confident that he is right.”
Can you mention a few of your achievements?
Abhishek Mukherjee at this year’s Australian Open Abhishek is getting a special award from the organising committee of Australian Open this season. This reward is the recognition of him officiating matches for consecutive 10 years in Australian Open. He has been the first man to receive this recognition. Abhishek who left for Taiwan to officiate matches in the WTA women’s Grand Prix on Wednesday (January 25), said, “I get surprised sometimes to see my journey. I sometimes recall the nostalgic memory thinking that how much lucky I have been. Being a line umpire I had opportunities to see the world’s greatest tennis players from such a close distance. Even I had opportunities to talk or to shake hands with some of them.” In last 11 years of his umpiring career, Abhishek has officiated in 32 Grand Slams.
What do you do now?
Now, he has been promoted to more responsible job. He is now in-charge of Hawk-Eye department. In the ongoing Australian Open he was also in-charge of Hawk-Eye, till the quarter-finals. Abhishek does not seem to be ecstatic with the reward he is receiving from Australian Open.
What are your aspirations?
He has dreams of becoming Grand Slam supervisor. He also wants to conduct at least one match as chair umpire in a Grand Slam. What was his gain in the ongoing Australian Open? Special award? Abhishek said, “I am extremely happy to have been informed about the special award I will receive being the first Indian tennis umpire. But if you ask me about the gain I must say watching magnificent Roger Federer once again after a span of eight years.”