An ace in the chair
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As India's Davis Cup team played a home tie against South Korea in Delhi last week, Richard Haigh sat a good eight feet above the ground and looked around, disoriented. This was unlike any match he had officiated before. Dhol beats rang out intermittently, Chak de India's title track played when breaks between points got longer, and people screamed out slogans. After India won the match, the celebration grew even more raucous with rockets and firecrackers lighting up the skies, people running on to the court to dance with the players among shots of confetti bursts. In the 10 years that he has been a tennis official, Haigh has chaired matches at all four Grand Slams, officiated at London and Beijing Olympics, and travelled to different venues for Davis Cup ties. He thought he had seen it all—players' tantrums, cold stares, angry exchanges—but that was before this match in Delhi. This was a stadium atmosphere he hadn't encountered before.
Knowing he'd have to remain in the chair for hours, Haigh decided to skip his usual dose of coffee. Around 4,000 people had turned up to watch Leander Paes and Purav Raja battle it out to keep India's hopes alive in the Cup. For someone whose job is to maintain decorum on court, Haigh had a tough day in office. During play, spectators would shout 'out' whenever they thought the call should have been in India's favour. When crowds booed the Korean players, seconds before their serve, Haigh had to say the customary 'thank you' to silence them. His call of 'silence please' would invite a Mexican wave of 'sshhh...sshhhh' throughout the stadium. In case of extreme offences on part of the crowd, the home team can end up losing points, so the umpire has to be careful when drawing the line.