Please tell us about yourself

Shailesh Tambe will be travelling out of India later this week for his first assignment as a linesman – for Wimbledon. The 27-year-old from Colaba, Mumbai, will be officiating in the grass court Grand Slam’s qualifying competition at Roehampton starting on June 25.

He will be only the second Indian linesman to get an opportunity to work in Wimbledon while yet to attain a badge. Tennis officials are rated in terms of white, bronze, silver and gold badges in that order.

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Kaushik Das of Calcutta was the first Indian linesman to officiate at Wimbledon without a badge a couple of years ago.

From the bylanes of Colaba in south Mumbai to the qualifying round the Wimbledon tennis tournament, it has been a gritty but fascinating journey for line umpire Shailesh Tambe.

Tennis officials are rated in terms of white, bronze, silver and gold badges in that order.

Tambe is a graduate, hailing from a humble background. He has been staying at his sister’s place after the death of his parents.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

“Grand Slams reserve a few slots for applicants who don’t have a badge but are deserving officials. Shailesh has been exceptional in all the tournaments he has done in India in the last few years and has inevitably won the best linesman award in each tournament,” said Nitin Kannamwar, the ITF Officiating Regional Officer for Asia and a trailblazer of sorts for his compatriots.

“My journey began in 2006 as a ball boy at the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA). A year later, I began my career as a line umpire and did my first match in suburban Kalina,” Tambe told PTI.

He approached the MSLTA for financial assistance.

The state tennis body gave him Rs. 50,000 to enable his Wimbledon trip, MSLTA secretary Sundar Iyer said.

“I will be officiating as a line umpire in the qualifying round of the Wimbledon. As to which matches I will officiate, I will come to know only after reaching there,” he said.

Tell us about your career path

But Wimbledon almost didn’t happen for Tambe due to lack of funds.

“For Wimbledon qualifying, one has to take care of all the expenses. I needed about Rs. 1 lakh which was beyond my capacity. So I was thinking of withdrawing when MSLTA offered me scholarship of Rs. 50,000,” he said.

Tambe, who hails from a poor background, began as a ballboy at the MSLTA Complex in Mumbai more than a decade ago and has risen through the ranks. His first pro tournament was the $25,000 women’s event in 2007.

He had to overcome a major setback in 2013 when both his parents passed away in the span of three months due to illness.

Till now, tennis officiating has been a part-time job for Tambe who began travelling outside Maharashtra from 2014 when he did the $100,000 ATP Challenger in Delhi. He has since worked in the ATP Challenger in Pune, the WTA Mumbai Open and the inaugural Maharashtra Open, an ATP 250 Series event.

“I keep watching videos on YouTube about linesmen, how to stand, how to make close calls, etc,” Tambe said of the secret behind his success.

“I will be officiating as a line umpire in the qualifying round of the Wimbledon. As to which matches I will officiate, I will come to know only after reaching there,” he said.

On his road to Wimbledon, Tambe said, “I got five Best Line Umpire awards in the past three years and was asked to approach the Wimbledon authorities, which I did in December and got their nod in March.”

“I have also officiated in WTA, Davis Cup and Maharashtra Open matches as a line umpire,” he said.