Please tell us about yourself
He’s the cool head that tackles tantrum-throwing divas and hot-headed young studs with utmost ease while flawlessly officiating in the ITF tennis circuit.
The average Indian tennis fan spent Sunday afternoon with Roger Federer for company in the living room. Sagar Kashyap, 30, was a touch luckier. As history unfolded in Melbourne Park — Federer sending a second serve to Marin Cilic’s backhand and then raising his arms to take in the crowds’ cheers at his record 20th Grand Slam win, before settling down for a good old weep — Sagar stood just a few feet away. He didn’t twitch though. The nature of his job after all demands stoicism.
Serving as a line umpire, the only Indian official to be picked for the Australian Open men’s final, Sagar, who has been a part of 18 main draws of Grand Slams, ticked off a third Grand Slam singles final appearance. “Just to watch Federer win yesterday and show that kind of emotion was great,” says the ITF-certified bronze badge chair umpire from Mysuru in Karnataka. “It was proof of how much a Grand Slam means to him even today and of his hunger and dedication still staying undiminished after all these years.”
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Kashyap, a former national ranked tennis player and an engineering graduate from Mysuru, took up officiating in smaller tournaments in Mysuru and Bengaluru.
Sagar started off as a linesman in 2005 during the Fed Cup in New Delhi and was also part of ITF events in Bangalore.
He then rose to the rank of a supervisor and was a level 1 chair umpire in ITF events, which meant he could officiate up to the second round. “At that time, it was a tough task to juggle college activities and manage my career as an umpire,” Sagar said.
In 2008, he attended a five-day workshop in Mumbai where he successfully became a white badge umpire and took charge of a host of ITF events before his tryst with Wimbledon began.
At this time, Kashyap was preparing for his final year engineering in computer science at the Marimallappa College of Engineering. “Tennis was always my life and I had to find a way to get into the sport again after giving it up when I got into engineering. I had got a chance to be line referee in the 2004-5 Fed Cup, but when Wimbledon came calling, it was reason enough to get into it full time,” says Kashyap, who was among the top 15 junior tennis players in the country. He has also officiated at the Australian Open, US Open, besides ATP, ITF and WTA tournaments.
What are your umpire qualifications?
He passed the International Tennis Federation’s Level-1 exams in 2008.
He passed the ITF Level-2 exams and became the youngest ‘White Badge’ official in the country, making him eligible to supervise at the highest level.
Kashyap started working in ITF tournaments and gradually was chosen for bigger tournaments. He got an opportunity to officiate in the ATP Chennai Open, WTA Sunfeast Open and ATP Kingfisher Open tennis championships.
What was your experience at Wimbledon?
In 2009, he got a break to be the line umpire in the Wimbledon qualifiers. In 2010, the British Lawn Tennis association invited him to officiate in the main draw and since then he has been a regular at Wimbledon. Kashyap has been the line official in five main-draws at Wimbledon.
What are the traits in a good umpire?
Staying true to his profession, Sagar says he has no favourites. No amount of prodding helps either.
“When we walk on to the court as officials we forget who the players are,” he says. “The moment you bring their personalities into the picture, it gets difficult to do your job.”
In his years as match official, Kashyap has had some interesting experiences. “One of the funniest things that happened was during a junior tourney that I refereed years ago. It was an Under-12 tourney and a parent called me the night before their daughter’s match to ask the dress code. Obviously, we all know normal tennis attire – T-shirt and shorts and sports shoes, but it was the kid’s first tourney and the parent wanted to make sure they got it right.”
But like any other job, there are downs too. “There have been plenty of times when players are not happy with the calls we make. When the player challenges an umpire’s call is when it gets tense for officials and in Sunday’s final we were mostly right so it was a great team effort from all officials,” he says.
“And, at the Wimbledon, everything is so traditional and methodical, it’s like they have a solution for everything.”
That said, when he’s on court, Kashyap say it ceases to be work. “I thoroughly enjoy this after having been on the road for seven years travelling from one championship to another.”
He is now awaiting his turn to climb the high chair at a singles final next.