“I can be very tough on myself”: Interview with umpire Louise Engzell

“I can be very tough on myself”

From an interview by Johanna Jonsson on Tennis.se.

After the Swedish tennis miracle, a new blue and yellow has taken over the tennis world. In an interview, umpire Louise Engzell talks about the work behind the scenes on the international professional tennis tours. “We take a lot of crap sometimes,” she says.

Umpiring Grand Slam finals on the tennis world’s greatest scene was far from a childhood dream.  As a youth, Louise Engzell had her eyes opened to umpiring when, much against her will, she umpired matches at her home club of Sollentuna.

“We were forced to take a course when we were quite small, and that’s the way it went. I didn’t think much of it at all at the beginning. Later on we took another course and it began to be fun. We could take part in the Kalle Anka (the present SEB Next Generation Cup) in Båstad, start to travel a little and then take part in the Swedish Open and the Stockholm Open,” says the 34-year-old whose career starting point came after taking an Elite-level umpiring course.

No one needs to force her into the umpiring chair today. She said yes to going home to Sweden for the Davis Cup tie in Jönköping to work during her holidays.

“The best part of being an umpire is the challenge. You never know what awaits you when you go to work,” says Engzell, who has lived in Paris for the last few years.

What is the worst part?

“We take a lot of crap sometimes. But you learn and grow all the time. We talk a lot with our colleagues and bosses, we go through and analyse what you did or didn’t do and always try and better ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t even a mistake and there’s still an uproar.”

Scolded by Berdych

One good example was at last year’s US Open when she was yelled at by Tomas Berdych. The Czech exploded after a correct umpiring decision but said he was sorry on Twitter the day after. Only she knows what went through her head, as she won’t talk about particular situations or individual players. On the TV screen, she looks like a calm umpire in the chair—something which Engzell sees as one of her strengths.

“I can keep my cool without getting too stressed. I can read different personalities quite well and see how to tackle the different players and their personalities.”

Are you good at taking criticism?

“It’s something I can improve on. I can be very tough on myself, which can also be good. I get angry and it takes a while to get myself together. Especially if you’re not 100% sure if you could have explained things in a better way and had the match better under control. In those situations you can sit and ponder and think,” she says.

“Swedish umpires have become a thing on the tours”

Together with, among others, her fellow Swede Mohamed Lahyani and Lars Graff as well as a group of tournament officials of a high international level, Louise Engzell is part of Swedish umpiring elite.

“I don’t know why we have so many umpires. It’s actually become a thing on the tours—especially now, when we don’t have so many players at the top levels, but a lot of top umpires.”

The 34-year-old has umpired Grand Slam finals at the French Open and the US Open, as well as the Olympic final in London in 2012, but still thinks she has a ways to go to reach the status of fellow Swedes Lahyani and ex-umpire Graff.

“I’m on my way there. I haven’t been at the job that long yet. It takes many, many years to get the same respect. It’s very much about trust, that they can trust you. You can win a lot with trust. It means you can handle a match better.”

After the finals in Paris and New York, Engzell has two matches on her dream list.

“I’d like to do one final in all the different Grand Slam tournaments. So Wimbledon and the Australian Open are there.”

Louise Engzell on …

Hawkeye:

“It’s just positive. The advantage with Hawkeye is that it’s a final judgement. Whether the player agrees or not, there no one to complain to or yell at. They accept it and play goes on. It’s fantastic and makes things so much easier.”

Psychology in the umpiring chair:

“Different players react in different ways. Some players you need to be harder with right from the start, others you can use a softer approach with. Some players want you to tell them if they’re taking too long between points while others just want the warning directly. It’s about getting to know the players.”

Relations with the players:

“We have no relations with the players. Those are the rules. There can’t be any semblance of a reason to doubt your fairness because you’ve had dinner with a player. There cannot be any question. And you don’t, if at all possible, umpire a player from your own country. You try and avoid all problems that could possibly arise.”

Her best matches:

“The US Open final in 2012 between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. I think it was one of the longest women’s matches ever.”

“The Olympic final in London is a special memory. The atmosphere was fantastic even if the match was rather short. Serena won 6-0, 6-1 against Sharapova.”

“One of my best matches was the 2012 Davis Cup match between Romania and Finland. It was the deciding match and it took almost five hours. It was extremely close and tense, a really good atmosphere and ambiance. It doesn’t need to be top players playing each other, it can even be at a lower level. The atmosphere is one you can only get at a DC match.”

Her favourite tournament:

“I hadn’t been in Båstad for a very long time, so I was there this (last) year. It was really cool coming back to Sweden. I like the atmosphere, the mood; everyone’s equal and eat together no matter what their job is. Besides that, I like the Grand Slam tournaments a lot. Each one is different from the other.”

Translated from the Swedish by Mark Nixon.

Many thanks to Victoria Chiesa for the tip.

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