When Simona Halep defeated Samantha Stosur 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 for her sixth title of the year at the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria, she closed the books on the 2013 WTA season. As the WTA heads into 2014, it will be missing two faces who became familiar to tennis fans over the past two decades despite never picking up a racket. Chair umpire Kerrilyn Cramer, who was honored by the WTA for her service post-match in Sofia, joined colleague Lynn Welch, who retired in April, in hanging up her khakis.
In a sport which boasts many larger-than-life personalities, its officials typically are the opposite. Possibly the most thankless position in all officiating in professional sports, tennis umpires put up with a lot. When forced to make a decision which puts them into the spotlight, they open themselves to criticism even when this decision is correct. The goal of most is to do their job, do it well and get on and off court without being noticed too much. While this may be true, if someone does her job well enough for long enough, she deserves to be recognized. Cramer and Welch spent decades doing just that.
During her 22-year career, Welch chaired five US Open singles finals, 12 major finals in total and the WTA Championships final in 2009. She worked hundreds of WTA events and 60 grand slams in total. She was the only American woman to hold a gold badge, the highest level an umpire can achieve, at the time of her retirement. She first attained that status in 2003.
Due to her no-nonsense attitude and distinctive voice, she developed a cult following of sorts, which gave birth to perhaps the most legendary video of all time.
Cramer, an Australian, began her officiating career as a hobby in 1988. After becoming a full-time official in 2001, she was promoted to gold badge status in 2008. She chaired the women’s singles final at her home major three times: in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Cramer had the distinction of being in the chair for two notable historical moments in women’s tennis. In 2006, she was a part of the longest tiebreak in WTA Open Era history. (The record still stands.) Nicole Pratt and Bryanne Stewart defeated Rennae Stubbs and Corina Morariu 7-6(5), 7-6(20) in the first round of the Bausch and Lomb Championships in Amelia Island.
“I’m just glad I was scoring in English. I can’t go past 12 in any other language,” she said after the match.
In addition, Cramer was the chair umpire for the third round match between Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo at Wimbledon in 2009, the first match played under the retractable roof on Centre Court.
With a combined 38 years of officiating experience, Welch and Cramer rose to the top of a profession where women once rarely found themselves. Georgina Clark was the first woman to umpire a grand slam final at Wimbledon in 1984, but the two were members of a gold badge officiating crew that consisted of just eight women to 20 men in 2013. With their retirement, that number is now down to six.
Thanks for your service, ladies. You’ll be missed.