Top tennis umpires reportedly involved in credential fraud
By SAM BORDEN
New York Daily News
NEW YORK -
Three "gold-badge" chair umpires were dismissed early from the U.S. Open because of their involvement in a credential-forging scheme at the Olympics, multiple sources told the New York Daily News on Saturday.
And the early departures may have been one reason why Mariana Alves - a lower-ranked, or "silver-badge" official - was assigned to the controversial Serena Williams-Jennifer Capriati quarterfinal.
According to sources, several tennis officials working in Athens were involved in a plan to alter their credentials to allow them increased access to the Games. Two of the officials, Matthew McAleer and Diane Larkin, were caught by security trying to use the false credentials and were deported.
Stefan Fransson, the International Tennis Federation's Grand Slam supervisor and a top international official at the U.S. Open, said he first learned during qualifying that three high-level umpires working the Open had been involved in the Athens scheme. The ITF allowed the umpires - Fergus Murphy, Lynn Welch and Christina Olausson - to work Open matches for more than a week while an investigation took place, but the trio was booted from the tournament early in the second week. Further penalties against the officials, including suspension, are possible, Fransson said.
"They fully understood and accepted that they made a mistake in Athens," Fransson said. "We were obviously very disappointed that anyone would do this. (In) the Olympic movement, it's a very, very serious offense."
Welch, a highly regarded umpire who has worked six U.S. Open finals, did not return calls. Attempts to reach Murphy were unsuccessful. Olausson, reached on her cell phone in Denmark, said only, "I can't talk about this, I'm sorry."
Thirty to 35 chair umpires work at a Grand Slam, nearly all of them at "bronze-badge" level or higher. Without a full complement of top-ranked umpires, tournament officials may have used lesser-ranked umpires in marquee matches. Though it's not out of the ordinary for silver-badge officials to work the later rounds in the singles bracket, an examination of tournament records shows that Alves worked show-court matches on five consecutive days, with the Capriati-Williams match being the last one.
She umpired the Francesca Schiavone-Angela Haynes match on Sept. 3, the Mary Pierce-Maria Sharapova match Sept. 4, the Elena Dementieva-Vera Zvonareva tilt on Sunday and the Justine Henin-Hardenne-Nadia Petrova match on Monday.
"That's very unusual," one umpire who requested anonymity said. "Even working back-to-back days on a show court is unusual."
Alves made a surprising overrule against Williams on a crucial point in the third set, a call that tournament officials admitted was wrong and led to Alves being held out of further duty at the Open. Williams said afterward she felt like she had been "robbed."
Officials have been in the spotlight since Wimbledon, when chair umpire Ted Watts erroneously gave Karolina Sprem an extra point in a tiebreaker with Venus Williams, a mistake that helped Sprem upset Williams. After the incident involving Serena Williams, the sisters' father, Richard, told the Daily News: "It was ridiculous. It's the second time this has happened. Serena should've called the (tournament) referee and asked him to get that ump out of that chair. If the ump refused to get out of the chair, Serena should've walked off the court."
Alves is an experienced official from Portugal, but several officials said she likely would not have been assigned such a high-profile matchup if higher-ranked umpires had been available.
"She was in over her head," one umpire said. "There's no way she would have been doing that match if (the dismissed umpires) were still working."