- Cast your mind back to a late summer's afternoon on June 5, 1999 in Paris. Martina Hingis
was in command of the French Open
final against Steffi Graf
, leading 64 20, when her forehand return was called out. What happened next cost the 18-year-old Swiss the match, and ultimately the one major title to elude her. In the space of less than a minute, calmness was replaced by madness, the chair umpire lost the ball mark, Hingis crossed the net and all of a sudden was one infraction away from being the first woman to be defaulted in a Grand Slam final.
Yet, who was on hand to restore order, to face a defiant Hingis in front of 16,000 screaming fans, and handle the situation with such grace, efficiency and authority, none other than Grand Slam Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Supervisor, Georgina Clark. Hingis quickly was sent back to the baseline, her tail between her legs, and a watchful eye was kept on the young upstart and proceedings as Graf came back to win what turned out to be her last major singles triumph.
That's just one of the many memories that will stick out in the mind amongst friends, players and the media, when Georgina Clark brings down the curtain on her long, illustrious and satisfying career at the end of the 2005 season.
Her love affair with tennis began at the age of 14, when she took up the sport. Within a few years she was competing at junior Wimbledon
, but tennis aspirations were put on hold at the age of 19 when she got married. In less than eight years, she had one son and four daughters, but it was because of her children that she got back into the sport, playing a role in coaching them (and later Princes William and Harry, among others!)
In 1977, it was Roy Cope-Lewis, founder of the first Professional Tennis Umpires Federation, who discovered her talents for umpiring, and very quickly Clark was officiating at professional events around the UK and internationally. She went on to umpire many high-profile men's matches at the US Open
and the Stella Artois Championships. It was during one of her first trips to the United States that she met with Peachy Kellmeyer at Mahwah, New Jersey, in 1981 and they talked about her being a Tour Referee on the precursor to the main Winter Tour, the Avon Futures Circuit.
Georgina agreed and set off on New Year's Eve, 1981 to Fort Meyers, Florida, on a journey that would take her around the Globe many times, over the course of the next 24 years and almost a century of Grand Slam Championships later.
"I never would have thought when I spoke to Roy all those years ago it would have led to this, and I'm incredibly thankful to him. I'm also grateful to Peachy. I thought at the US Open
when these two women with these strange names: Peachy Kellmeyer and Grenn Nemhauser, wanted to meet with me that this must be a joke, but it wasn't and I'm delighted to be where I am today."
Clark has witnessed many changes in the game in that time, including all 15 women to have been ranked No.1 in the world on the Tour's computer. Clark observed, "The power game has arrived. The athleticism and agility are the biggest changes in what I have seen. Also the depth in competition across the board is truly impressive. I'm very excited about where the sport is going."
During the course of her career, Clark received many accolades, including being the first woman ever to umpire a singles final at Wimbledon
, during the Ladies' Centennary in 1984 between Navratilova and Evert. Other accomplishments include setting up the first European Headquarters for the Tour on June 10, 1988 at the Vanderbilt Club (now at the Bank of England Sports Centre at Roehampton) with Diana, HRH Princess of Wales and Graf on hand; receiving the Tour's David Gray Special Service Award in 1995 for devoting her life to the game; incepting the first Officiating Program at the Tour; being promoted to Vice President of European Operations of the Tour in 2001; having the walkway to the center court in Filderstadt named after her (Georgina Clark Way); receiving honorary membership to the Rotweiss Club in Berlin in 2002; and in 2003, she received the Prestigious LTWA Award for services, in particular to British Tennis, joining former recipients Virginia Wade
, Billie Jean King
, Fred Perry and Tim Henman.
Clark was recently honored on-court at her last official appearance at a European event, in Hasselt, Belgium. The Tour also held a farewell lunch in Los Angeles, at which all of her old Tour colleagues and friends such as Mercedes Paz and Barbara Jordan were present. Tour CEO Larry Scott also marked her numerous contributions to Women's Tennis.
Yet looking back over her career, Georgina will be fondly remembered, not only as the British Press dubbed her - The Banbury Mother of Five, but rather as an authority on fairness and rules of the game, a dignified figure clad in ankle length skirts and jackets, perched unobtrusively near the corner of a court, ready to pounce and restore order to the day's proceedings if necessary.
As she moves into the next chapter in her life, air miles, papers full of schedules and officials will be replaced by time spent playing bridge, gardening, seeing friends, her five children and 10 devoted grandchildren. Indeed, it was that motherly touch that nearly cost her an embarrassing moment on the old Court One at Wimbledon
. Umpiring a McEnroe match, there was a disturbance in the crowd, where a woman fainted. Distracted from the rally in progress, a concerned Clark looked up, but by the time her eyes reverted to the match, she had no idea who won the point. In a few seconds that must have seemed like an eternity, Georgina wondered what she should do, but in a manner McEnroe was not known for, he walked up to the Umpire's chair to collect his towel and discreetly muttered "30-15". Order was once again restored.
*Article from 2005