By Elham Asaad Buaras
For many people on these shores Mohamed Lahyani will forever be remembered as the smiley umpire who officiated the final which saw Andy Murray finally end Britain’s 77-year Wimbledon title drought.
At one point millions watched as Lahyani calmly handle a volley of angry tirade by Novak Djokovic who had used up all his challenges but was adamant that Murray’s return was out, TV replay showed Lahyani was right prompting the fans outside centre court to applaud the Swede of Moroccan origin.
Lahyani has become a crowd favorite and taken chair umpiring to a new level long before this historic final.
He is one of the few umpires to regularly sign autographs and get crowd cheers when the camera close-ups, a result of a charming personality, friendly interaction with players on changeovers and a loud Barry White voice.
The Times tennis correspondent Neil Harman once said: “It doesn’t matter which court you’re on here, you can hear Mohamed Lahyani calling score somewhere.”
“The voice, it should not be a monotone. You have to vary your voice for the stage of the match. You can go up with the tone, down with it,” explained Lahyani.
According to one story, one of Lahyani’s overrules was so loud during a match at St Petersburg that it stopped play in another court as the players there thought it was a call from their umpire.
Lahyani’s star status was cemented when he sat tight for eight hours while working the John Isner -Nicolas Mahut marathon at Wimbledon in 2010 and remarkably kept it free of controversy. He later joked, “I travel Economy. Seven hours sitting still on court is nothing.”
He also officiated the 2001 fourth round Wimbledon match that saw unknown Swiss teenager Roger Federer dethrone 7-time champion Pete Sampras.
Lahyani turned pro in 1997 and has since officiated Grand Slam with a unique style, drawing to develop a relaxed atmosphere on the court but with a motto: stay focused. “I’m not a dictator in my chair. I love the dialogue. I am communicative, smiling, that’s how I get the confidence of the players.”
One linesman credited Lahyani with putting them “at ease”. “He does not hesitate to give us a little wink and a nod when you make a good decision. This is cool. It de-stresses.”