The $10k AEGON Pro-Series Tournament brought along world famous umpire James Keothavong to Loughborough University.
James has many high-profile encounters under his belt, including umpiring at Wimbledon, the Davis Cup, the French Open and the US open. However, this week saw him umpiring many of Great Britain’s upcoming stars, and after umpiring one of the semi-finals, James stopped for a quick chat with Label Sport.
How long have you been umpiring for?
James:“I’ve been umpiring for 16 years, I started at the age of 18 whilst I was playing national level tennis. The LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) sent around a letter advertising interest to competitive players about the potential to become a line judge. I applied and was selected as of one of sixteen to follow the training program. I worked my way up, umpiring my first Wimbledon in 1999, and haven’t missed one since.
What would you say would be your most memorable match?
James:My most memorable match would have to be the Davis Cup doubles match between Czech Republic and Switzerland, which lasted 7 hours, 1 minute with a fifth set score of 25-23.
However, the most exciting match that I have umpired would be Djokovic vs Del Potro at this year’s Wimbledon semi-final. Both players were incredibly friendly towards each other, which made for a great atmosphere for both crowds and competitors. It does make my job a lot easier when players are cooperative.
What has to be the most high profile match you have umpired?
James:Well, I’ve done men’s doubles grand slam finals at the US Open and Wimbledon along with two men’s singles semi-finals at Wimbledon, but my ultimate goal is to do a Grand Slam singles final – preferably Wimbledon.
Were there any GB women here this week that stood out for you?
James:Jasmine Asghar for her aggressive style, cool head and good tactical brain. Also, Freya Christie is another positive example of an upcoming individual with high future prospects.
Obviously, tennis has started to implement the use of technology in major events on both the men’s and women’s circuit. Would you say this is a good thing, and how does it affect your job as an umpire?
James:Yes I would, as it helps us as umpires and stops many disputes, making it beneficial for both players and crowds. However, I think the next step is to expand its use to non-show courts as many players never get to experience the technology unless they play a player within the top ten of Grand Slam draws. The downfall of course is the pricey cost, but the positives far outweigh this.
How would you say Loughborough has been as a venue this week?
James:It’s been great, providing the tournament with great facilities, lots of court availability, brilliant accommodation, and catering facilities.
Who would win in a tennis match; you or your sister (Anne Keothavong, recently retired former British number one), and have you ever had the chance to umpire her?
James:(laughs) Now, my sister would win hands down, but when we were younger I was always the winner.
No, I’ve never had the chance to umpire her due to fear of biased decision and so due to this I’m a lot less experienced on the WTA circuit as I could never umpire tournaments that she was in, unless she’d been knocked out or not involved in it completely so it’s great that I’m starting to get more chances now.
James umpired the final of the AEGON Pre-Series at Loughborough this Sunday, in which Great British player Anna Smith beat Belgium player Klaartje Lieebns 6-3, 7-5. Anna also won the doubles final with her partner Jocelyn Rae to claim a double victory. The future of British women’s tennis is looking bright and hopefully we shall hear more of Anna Smith winning in the future.
James was an incredibly interesting guy with whom it was great to talk and we felt as if we could have talked for hours! We hope to see him venturing up to Loughborough again soon, or if not, popping up on our TV screens in that chair.
Imogen Harry & Dominic Dyer