Umpire for Wimbledon Final Is Fired Over Interviews
At Wimbledon last month, Damian Steiner reached a career pinnacle when he worked as the chair umpire for a Grand Slam men’s singles final for the first time.
It turned out to be a classic duel, with Novak Djokovic saving two match points and defeating Roger Federer, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3), in the longest singles final in Wimbledon history.
By all accounts, Steiner, a 44-year-old umpire from Argentina, acquitted himself well during that tense match, but he has since been fired by the ATP Tour, the men’s circuit, which has been his primary employer.
Steiner was dismissed on Aug. 15 because he violated tour policies by giving a series of interviews to the news media in Argentina without authorization from the ATP. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Steiner’s firing comes as the United States Open is trying to be more transparent about umpiring decisions. The tournament, which began Monday, plans to grant the news media increased and faster access to top officials — the tournament referee, Sören Friemel, and the chief umpire, Jake Garner — during this year’s event to explain rules and policies.
But it has stopped short of allowing chair umpires, who officiate individual matches, to grant interviews.
Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire who clashed with Serena Williams during her loss to Naomi Osaka in last year’s women’s singles final, has not been granted permission by the International Tennis Federation, his primary employer, to make public statements on that final despite numerous interview requests.
Like Ramos, Steiner is a gold-badge umpire, which puts him at the highest level of tennis officiating. Steiner has not lost his gold-badge status or been expressly barred from working at the Grand Slam tournaments.
But he is not part of this year’s umpiring crew at the U.S. Open. As part of its contract with the Open, the ATP has the right to name three chair umpires for the event, and after firing Steiner, the ATP replaced him with a French chair umpire, Renaud Lichtenstein.
Steiner was the first Argentine to serve as a chair umpire in a Grand Slam singles final, which led to substantial interest from the news media in his home country after Wimbledon.
But according to the ATP, Steiner not only failed to seek permission from tour supervisors before he gave more than a dozen interviews, but he also delved into topics that would have been off-limits even if the ATP had granted permission.
“Much of the content of Steiner’s media interviews were a direct violation of the standard protocol in place whereby officials must refrain from discussing specific incidents or matches, individual players, other officials, or rules, in the interest of maintaining impartiality at all times,” the ATP said in a statement, confirming the dismissal after an inquiry.
In one of Steiner’s interviews, with the podcast “3iguales,” he recommended a series of rule changes. They included restricting the use of towels during play, abolishing the let serve and allowing some form of in-match coaching.
In another interview, with Radio Continental, Steiner said he believed that Federer was going to win the Wimbledon title when he had two match points late in the fifth set of the final against Djokovic.
But many of Steiner’s interviews also focused on his own background. He is a former player and sports journalism student who said he began working as a tennis official in 1994.
Earlier this year, he was named the director of the Argentina Tennis Federation’s national umpiring department.
Steiner was suspended provisionally by the ATP in early August while an internal review was conducted. The ATP said that both the number of interviews and the content had resulted in his ultimately being fired rather than suspended or otherwise disciplined.
Christopher Clarey has covered global sports for The Times and the International Herald Tribune for more than 25 years from bases in France, Spain and the United States. His specialties are tennis, soccer, the Olympic Games and sailing. @christophclarey
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