This weekend at the U.S. Open was supposed to be all about Serena’s history-making moment. Instead, it was another woman in tennis stealing the spotlight: Chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore, who became the first female to chair the U.S. Open men’s final.
Faced with the daunting task of ruling over a heavily partisan crowd and two of the greatest men’s tennis players of all time, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Asderaki-Moore completely rose to the occasion.
She had total command of the match at all times, and replays proved her to be correct on every single one of her overrules — a monumental feat for any official, let alone one on such a big stage, under such a strong microscope.
“At that level it’s a game of millimeters. To have that confidence in yourself to make the calls in that moment can’t be understated,” Victoria Chiesa, a former USTA sectional certified official and the co-founder of The Tennis Island, told ThinkProgress.
Asderaki-Moore became a viral star throughout the match, with viewers, including WTA players, tweeting their praise for her masterful performance. She even garnered the admiration of a man who has never had a nice word to say about umpires, four-time U.S. Open champion John McEnroe. “She’s doing a strong job. Some nice over-rules,” McEnroe said while calling the match on ESPN.
Notably, Asderaki-Moore wasn’t the only female tennis umpire chairing a final this weekend; Marija Čičak was the umpire of the U.S. Open women’s final between Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci on Saturday, making this weekend the first time that a woman has chaired both the men’s and women’s singles finals in a Grand Slam.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) September 13, 2015
This wasn’t the first time a woman has chaired a Grand Slam men’s final, though — France’s Sandra de Jenken broke that barrier back in 2007 when she chaired both the Australian Open and French Open men’s singles finals. However, de Jenken’s trailblazing wasn’t the watershed moment for women umpires that many hoped it would be — 33 major men’s singles finals passed until another woman got into the chair on Sunday.
“I think it’s very long overdue,” Chiesa said. “I think that eight years in-between has certainly been a lot, especially when you consider all of the strong female officials at the top of the game.”
While there are many strong female officials in tennis, they are still far outnumbered by men. There were 19 Gold Badge umpires — the highest rating for a chair umpire — working at the U.S. Open this year, and only five of them, including Čičak and Asderaki-Moore, were women. Of the 127 men’s singles matches over the fortnight, the USTA reported that only 41 of them were chaired by women.
Considering that tennis has always been a sport where men and women are on equal footing, those numbers are frustrating.
“There is no reason for there to be any gender divide,” Chiesa, who has written about sexism in tennis officiating before, said. “The people who can communicate best, who know the rules best, who can work well under pressure, should get the job. Gender shouldn’t be a quantifying factor.”
Of course, tennis is far ahead of other sports when it comes to women officiating men. The MLB has never had a female umpire a regular season or postseason major-league games; the NBA has only had three full-time female officials (two active); and Sarah Thomas made NFL history on Sunday as the first woman to be part of a full-time officiating crew when she took the field in the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans.
But there’s a big difference between simply having women among the ranks, and featuring a woman umpire in the biggest stage of the game. That’s why Asderaki-Moore’s appointment and performance was such a big deal on Sunday.
“It’s great for her and for her career, given how hard she’s worked and the respect she’s garnered from the players. But it’s also great for the game,” Chiesa said. “There’s a large crop of women in the next generation of umpires coming up, and this is a good thing for them as well.”