Gerry Armstrong takes every opportunity he can to visit South Africa. It therefore comes as no surprise to find this highly experienced official will be back in the country next month as the Referee and International Tennis Federation (ITF) representative for the Davis Cup tie, South Africa vs Lithuania. The tie will be played at Irene Country Club outside Pretoria from April 4 to 6.
The chair umpires for the Euro Africa Group 2 second round tie will be Mxolisi Matyolo (Vosloorus) and Ivan Bridges (Cape Town). Matyolo worked the lines at the 2008 ATP World Tour Masters in London and the 2012 Paralympics, and was a chair umpire in the Davis Cup Africa Zone in Morocco. Bridges who started his officiating career in 1996 is, like Mxolisi, a white badge official and this will be his first time in the chair for a Davis Cup tie.
South Africa’s Iain Smith will reprise his role as Tournament Director while Mpho Makhoba (Atteridgeville) has been named as chief of umpires. In 2009 the All England Club appointed Armstrong as assistant referee to Wimbledon referee Andrew Jarrett. Armstrong said he was honoured to have been appointed to this position and regarded it as “a feather in my cap”. “Being a referee at Wimbledon is certainly a career highlight as the Tournament has been part of my life for nearly 40 years,” said Armstrong.
For the past five years, Armstrong has been the Referee of the year-end ATP World Tour Finals which he says has been “a great experience and always a fantastic end to the Tennis year.” Armstrong is no stranger to South Africa and was a chair umpire at the 1995 SA Open at Westridge Park. He returned to the same venue in 1996 as tournament referee for the SAA Tennis Open and then in 1998 he was appointed ATP Supervisor of the SAA Tennis Open in East London. Prior to that, Armstrong was tournament referee for the Davis Cup tie between South Africa and Poland in Polokwane.
Armstrong then returned as Supervisor for the three ATP SA Opens staged at Montecasino from 2009 – 2011 which he claims were “exceptionally well run Tour events,” which he personally would “love to see professional events such as these back on the Tour calendar.” Armstrong spent some 10 years on the tennis tour before taking up umpiring. His first Wimbledon as an official was in 1973, and in 1990 he was hired by the ATP Tour as a professional official.
His most memorable match as umpire was the final of the Rogers Masters Series in Montreal, Canada between world number one Roger Federer and rising star at the time Novak Djokovic. Djokovic beat Federer 7-6 (7-2) 2-6 7-6 (7-2). One of his best moments as tournament supervisor was at the Chennai Open in India in January of 2008 where he witnessed the semifinal match between world number two Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya. The match lasted 235 minutes and 234 points were played during the match, which was won by Nadal 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (7-21).
“Both Rafa and Carlos were so competitive that day. The match went on forever and the tennis played was at the highest level. As supervisor I was conscious of the importance of my presence throughout the match at court side. This gave peace of mind to the players to be able to focus on the match knowing I was there to make sure that both the chair umpire and referee made the right decisions throughout,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong said he was looking forward to coming down to South Africa as “it feels like coming home for me.”