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Charlie Garfinkel’s Racket Sports: Wilbon’s career takes him to the biggest stages

Turhan Wilbon has been officiating tennis for 15 years. During that time he has officiated at all four Grand Slam events, including calling lines for Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Dojkovic and Serena Williams.

Wilbon started his officiating career as a rover (moving from court to court) when he was in college at Penn State. He then did officiating for the UB women in their Mid-American Conference matches. From there he went on to officiate in Binghamton at the Men’s Challengers.

“As I improved my officiating skills I started doing some professional events,” Wilbon said. “I loved all aspects of the officiating, such as calling the lines, chairing and refereeing.”

In his third season he attained his White Badge, which allowed him to officiate some professional events. In 2005 Wilbon received his Bronze Badge. This allowed him to do events at any Grand Slam, which included main draws until the quarterfinals in singles, or any other event up to the finals. From 2005 until the present he has been the chair umpire at many pro circuit events.

“To do well as an official you must have confidence in yourself and when you are in the chair,” Wilbon said. “You can’t react to players who are trying to get all of the calls go their way. You must feel that you are doing the best job that you can regardless of who the players are on the court.”

Having been an official at all four Grand Slams, Wilbon notes that each of the following have their own personality.

Australian Open: “The Australians go out of their way to make sure that everything is done exceptionally well for the players, fans and workers.

“Players seem to be more excited to be in Australia than at other Grand Slam tournaments. They may react that way because it is the first tournament of the year and players are happy to be back on the courts.”

French Open: “The French have a very different way of doing things. They are very strict in their officiating and everyone must be on the same page.”

Wimbledon: “This Grand Slam is known as ‘The Etiquette Tournament.’ The English are very proud and refer to their tournament as ‘The Championship.’ Officials walk on to the courts like soldiers. Women must wear skirts and men must wear jackets and slacks.”

U.S. Open: Known as “The Party Grand Slam,” Wilbon stresses that officials from all over the world, especially international officials, “love New York.”

On Wednesday, Wilbon will fly to Perth, Australia, to be a line judge for the Hopman Cup Tournament, which consists of eight mixed doubles teams from all over the world. Two of the favored teams are Americans John Isner and Serena Williams and Great Britain’s Andy Murray and Heather Watson.

After the Hopman tournament Wilbon will fly to Melbourne to do the Australian Open qualifying tournament Jan. 14-17 and the regular tournament Jan. 18-29.

Wilbon will then receive the Eastern Tennis Association’s Umpire Service Award in White Plains Jan. 31.

Dessie Samuels is the present USTA Tournament Chief and a Gold Badge Umpire.

“I have worked with Turhan when he was a chief umpire, a chair umpire, and a line umpire,” Samuels said. “Regardless of his role, he has always been a ‘team player,’ and was always ready to do what was asked of him, and has always been especially helpful to new umpires who were seeking his advice.”

The Eastern Tennis Association will also honor two other WNYers in White Plains. Shawna Macfarlane will receive the Member Organization Award for the Buffalo Niagara Community Tennis Association for the job she has done running the organization for almost 15 years. The other is Andrea Abeles, who is the recipient of the Loise Cilla Award for outstanding sportsmanship on and off the court.

Macfarlane is the face and voice of the BNCTA. The program is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting tennis in Western New York. Under Macfarlane’s leadership the association focuses on tennis programming for undersized populations, promotes fitness and recreational benefits, and supports tennis programs in the community.

“Making tennis accessible to all people, regardless of their age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, and other factors, is a main goal of the BNCTA,” Macfarlane said.

In addition to running the City Muny Hard Court Championships – the longest running event in WNY history at 93 years – and the Marsh Cup Matches between Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, her association renovates and resurfaces the Delaware Park courts and runs the USTA League Tennis programs with community leaders and private contributions. She is also the tennis director of the Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston.

In more than 20 years of league play Abels has demonstrated outstanding sportsmanship both on an off the court. She has also contributed greatly to the sport of tennis by recruiting new players and keeping other team members consistently involved. She has played in more than 100 tennis leagues.