Life of Chryst, from bullets to barracking

When Norm Chryst talks, it pays to listen. The 57-year-old American, a Vietnam war veteran who took a bullet in the conflict and survived, also happens to be the most senior touring umpire in world tennis.

When Norm Chryst talks, it pays to listen. The 57-year-old American, a Vietnam war veteran who took a bullet in the conflict and survived, also happens to be the most senior touring umpire in world tennis.

He has overseen more flare-ups than a pyrotechnics expert. He has received more abuse for no good reason than every contestant on The Weakest Link combined.

Marat Safin once yelled that he was "fucked up in the head". Lleyton Hewitt has mocked his calls, telling him: "Open your mouth." Even Andre Agassi, in his hot-headed twenties, called Norm a name that does not bear repeating. Agassi was fined. Norm's reputation as a fair and unflappable official grew.

The facts of his long, distinguished career in the chair speak for themselves. He has been the umpire at the US Open final on five occasions, including for Pete Sampras's epic win over Agassi two years ago. He has officiated at the Australian Open five times and at other top-level tournaments all around the world.

This year, for the first time, he is working at Wimbledon, and it is an experience he recommends. "I'd never been here before and was just in awe," he said of his arrival at the All England Club. "This is some place that every tennis official should come and work."

He does not yet know whether he will be assigned any of this week's big matches, rating his chances as "pretty small" until he has more experience at the venue. So far this fortnight, Norm and his distinctive diamond ear stud have been seen most often at men's doubles matches, although he also officiated Mark Philippoussis' first-round win. Whatever comes his way, he will be ready.

"I get nervous, of course," said Chryst, who became a full-time umpire in 1992 after being made redundant from his computing job in a bank. "You get nervous every time, especially for big matches. The players are nervous, you are nervous. But when the shit hits the fan, you have to control things.

"You do damage control. You want to get the match going as soon as possible. You have to explain to the player what you saw, what they saw and get it moving. Typically, you allow the player to ask you twice, then it's 'Time to play, guys'.

"You have to figure out how to make that happen. It's to do with the nationalities of the players. You talk to them in different ways. You speak to an Englishman in a straightforward way and give them a reasonable answer. Tim Henman, specifically, wants a reasonable explanation. He doesn't just want 'the ball is in' or 'the ball is out'.

"You talk to a South American differently. He wants 'yes, the ball was in', 'no, the ball was out'. He doesn't want to talk about it. With the French, they want to talk, they don't want to hear you talk."

Coping with abuse requires "a pretty thick skin", but then Chryst has had to handle more than offensive words in his time. He spent six months as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam. The tour of duty ended when a bullet went through him. The injury was so serious he was in hospital for a year. He still has no feeling in his left leg below the knee. "[Umpiring] is mostly mental strength. Like in Vietnam, it is how you deal with stress."

Asked to name a player he really admires, he said John McEnroe. "He brought a lot to the game," said Norm, a man who appreciates how tough it can get out there.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Polly Borgen at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012
peopleThe Emmy award-winner starred in Cape Fear, the Sopranos and Desperate House Wives
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
News
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
people
News
people'Bring It On' actress says her legal team will combat the 'vultures'
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam