Orathip Sritawan: The only Thai line judge at Wimbledon | Main Stand

All-white outfits, grass courts, a 145-year-old tournament, strawberries and cream, or Roger Federer. 

What comes to your mind when you think of Wimbledon?
Regardless of what you associate with Wimbledon, today Main Stand will ask you to leave those all behind. Instead, we present Wimbledon as the world-famous tennis tournament whose line umpires include a Thai woman who managed to go through a cut-throat selection process. In fact, she’s already been part of the grand slam in 2019, 2020 (appointed but not officiating due to the COVID-19 cancellation), and 2022.

Known by her nickname ‘Pu,’ Orathip Sritawan just returned to Thailand after participating in Wimbledon 2022 as a line judge for the qualifying rounds. We set up a meeting with her at Craftfee Cafe, in her local area of Muang Thong Thani. 

Although she was born in Ubon Ratchathani, her family relocated to Bangkok when she was young. Of course, she is now familiar with every corner of Muang Thong Thani.

“Earlier, this cafe was a tennis shop where I dropped by regularly,” Pu said. She glanced around the shop and chose a table with a wide sofa on a mezzanine. Upon spotting a tennis ball adorned on the bookshelf, she got up, fetched it, and bounced it off the floor. 

She sat on the long couch, placed a purple hat and a line judge’s uniform beside her, and began telling us about her life.

“I have been playing tennis since I was seven. Now I’m 34. Every step of my life is associated with tennis.”

She has completed all major roles in tennis - a player, coach, and even an umpire. At first, she just played tennis in her spare time. Her place was not far from the national tennis association’s court, which is why she was initially drawn to the game. 

However, when she grew up, she made her own decision to devote her life to tennis in any role she could.

“I got a scholarship to study in university from the tennis player quota. After that, I worked as a tennis coach at ISB (International School Bangkok) for a while. During school breaks, with the desire to be challenged, I applied for a line judge position at many tournaments.”

Pu started to get amused, showing us photos from her Facebook which depicted just how much of her life has revolved around the sport. 

“I graduated from an English program, so I am skilled in understanding documents and communicating with people. But as far as I’ve seen, many line judges are not as good at English. In 2009, a year prior to the Olympics Games in Japan - which was my first time as a line judge - many Japanese line judges were selected because of their performance which fed off their poor English skills.”

“Believe it or not, I once applied for the U.S. OPEN. I was only on the substitute list though, because I lacked experience. After that, I worked as a line umpire for two tournaments in India. I first applied for Wimbledon in 2019. Once I realized my application was accepted, it was like, wow, feelings of joy and excitement because I was a first-timer. Then I learned the criteria and manuals attached in the mail, booked accommodation, and learned the routes. Fortunately, there were authorities lending me a hand to deal with the VISA and travel documents, since my sister asked them to.”

Heading nearly 10,000 kilometers to England as a freelancer was no easy task. She had to spend quite a lot of her own money to cover expenses, though thankfully aided by her sponsors. 

“I was totally new there, knowing no one,” Pu recalls. “Furthermore, things in England are expensive. The tournament staff recommended accommodation near the court. Guess how much it was! It’s two thousand baht per night, and I couldn’t afford it. Imagine I had to stay for 12 nights, it cost way too much. Then I decided to stay in a dormitory with public bathrooms. Although it was a mixed dormitory room which was supposed to be cheap, it cost 1,000 baht or so.” The story might begin to sound harrowing here, but instead, Pu’s eyes were full of excitement.

“It’s fun indeed. I never considered it a hardship. It’s probably because of my passion for tennis, I paid little attention to other trivial matters.”

“The first day of my arrival, I attended a workshop. Everyone there introduced themselves to me, telling me their names and where they were from. They said that they were new here and that I could chat with them anytime. They were all so nice. Even the chief umpire asked me what line I preferred, suggesting that I choose one I was more experienced in so I could have fun.”

Pu added that judging on grass courts is tougher than on other surfaces. On hard courts, you can hear the sound of a ball hitting the ground, so it’s not so hard to call whether the ball is in or out. On grass courts, by contrast, the sound of a ball hitting a grass court is very soft. For this reason, it is necessary that a line judge stay focused and make calls in a bold and confident manner.

“Some matches were challenging because the players were hefty, so I had to try not to take my eyes off the ball. I had to catch where the ball was. I had to make sure I stood properly and stayed focused.” Pu got up, lowered her body a little, and placed her hands on her knees, looking forward. She mimicked the in-game posture perfectly. 

We asked her what the most difficult part of judging a major tournament is, which sometimes requires her to stand as a line judge for up to 3-4 matches. She seemed unfazed by the physical demands of the matches and the difficulty of the calls she has to make. The only challenge, she admits, is that she has to suppress her feelings when she’s around famous players.

“I once walked past Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic around the court. However, as an umpire, I needed to watch my behavior. I was allowed to take photos only when I’m off work, and I wasn’t allowed to post them. It is a strict rule. So all I could do was only take photos with the chief umpire on a Wimbledon billboard (laughing). I like him though. It was as exciting as meeting world-class tennis players in person.”

Pu went to Wimbledon for the second time in 2022, where she enjoyed making friends and indulged herself in eating strawberries and cream, the tournament’s signature snack.

“I once ate up to five bowls!” Pu exclaimed. “What a yummy dessert! Only mentioning it makes my mouth water.” 

“The idea of doing things [other than Tennis] never crossed my mind,” she concluded. “I am extremely happy being involved in tennis, in any role. I would like to thank all sponsors and everyone for their great support. Without their generosity, I would not be able to reach Wimbledon, nor would I dare to apply for any major tournaments.”

Whether as a player, coach, or line judge, Pu’s passion for the sport is undeniable. Thanks to her courage and perseverance, she was able to carve a niche for herself on the stage of world-class tennis, doing what she loves. 


Kullaya Krajangkul

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