The best-of 2013: Pascal Maria: "I always go to the toilet 25 times before a match"

Dec 13, 2013, 11:22:45 AM

All tennis lovers know his round face and oncoming baldness: Pascal Maria, 39, from Nice, holder of a degree in industrial maintenance and father of little Luna. A professional referee since 2002, definitely the most famous of the French professionals and

All tennis lovers know his round face and oncoming baldness: Pascal Maria, 39, from Nice, holder of a degree in industrial maintenance and father of little Luna. A professional referee since 2002, definitely the most famous of the French professionals and even one of the best in the world. Interview.


When we are kids, we dream of being an Indian or a cowboy, a policeman or a thief. But never a tennis referee...

People are not born to become a referee. I wanted to be an airline pilot or a vet...



Something didn’t go according to plan...

I played tennis a lot when I was young but I quickly realized that my skills were limited. Besides, it turns out that in my area around Nice, there were two experienced referees: Jean-Philippe Merlet and Bruno Rebeuh who gave me this idea. But the dream of every young French player is to go to Roland Garros one day. So I thought: "Why not do it as a referee?" Little by little, we take national exams, international ones, practical and theoretical. We are on a chair, we practice being a referee, we gain experience. Then we take written tests for the rules, like lawyers and their laws...



You started refereeing in 1995. In 2001 you took the "gold badge" which is the highest certification for tennis referees. Ok, but before that, what were you doing?

I have a degree in industrial maintenance. It's everything to do with applied physics... Uh, well, it can go from the generator to the milling cutter...



You already fiddled with a generator?

No, not at all. I did my degree and during school holidays my colleagues from Nice often worked on the beach. I, for my part, took a suitcase and went to referee amateur tennis tournaments as a line judge. You make very little money at that level. Well, even at my level... (Laughs) and as soon as I finished school I went across the Channel for six months to learn English. When I came back, I took my suitcase and went globe-trotting for two years - including one to have a good time – going from tournament to tournament, always with an eye on making it in tennis.



Not without a hint of irony you say earn "very little money" That is to say?

No, no I never said that.



Yes you just said it...

Oh no! (Smile). But what I can tell you is that we are very far from earning what the players do.



To get back to the game what is the difference between a good and a bad referee?
I think to be a good referee; you need a lot of diplomacy. A good eye, to see the ball, all that, it helps... but I don't think it's the most important. I prefer communication to technology: to know how explain your decisions to make people accept them. Without credibility, it’s impossible to sell your decisions. The best compliment one can make to a referee is not to remember the games he refereed. The stars are the players. They are the ones who write history.

But today, with technology...
It doesn't mean anything! Past the technology, there are plenty of things you should know: how to announce a ball at the right time, when to replay a point or not. It’s a very nice tool that takes away the conflicts. Many conflicts let's say.

How did you welcome the arrival of the Hawk-Eye in 2006?
We were sceptical. We wanted to know how it would work and be calibrated. I started without Hawk Eye: now we must learn to be disowned during a match, not after. But, well it's good, it corrects mistakes but does it not take away from tennis a little?




When we talk of John McEnroe do you remember what he won or of his antics with the referees?

A bit of both ...
A bit of both! You know we're all a little masochistic us the referees! It’s not the arguments or the "freak outs" that I miss but the charm, the contact, being a referee is to make the player accept your decision. We can talk about football and refereeing mistakes, but we must admit that people talk about it because the faults help give life to the sport.

What is your mental and physical preparation before a game?
Drink lots of alcohol (Laughs). No, I always go to the toilet 25 times before a game! For two reasons: it allows me to free myself, to focus a little, but mostly I'm  scared of having an urgent need during a match. The last drop will always be for...

Even today you have stage fright?
Of course! I need three points before I can get into a match. Always. During this time let's say that I wet myself! Once the three points are played, a bubble forms and I enter my game.



Like players you probably have small superstitions to help you stay in your "bubble"?
I'm not superstitious. There are referees who keep the same coin for the toss throughout their careers. I have a new one every time. I either lose them or I spend them!

You're not as nuts as the players...
Less than Nadal, I hope. He makes me nauseous sometimes!

In addition, from the height of your chair, you are definitely in the best position to enjoy his many ticks...
It captivates me! I also remember the Dane Kenneth Carlsen: during a change of side he pulled out a dozen pair of socks, all the same, plain white, trying to find the right one. When I saw it, I thought "Hop hop hop".  Imagine when I announced "Time"...

It's been 17 years since you started refereeing at the highest level. Today is it not exhausting to reconcile the pilgrim lifestyle and family life?
First, we have to find the ideal woman - I found her - who accepts your absence and your independence. She has always been like that, so it's a ritual. We have a life of hotel but we never lose in the first round.



So you hang out with the players until the end of the tournament. Well, not really because it is forbidden...
It's not that we are not allowed to do it but we have a code of conduct which is very strict about that.

You eat at the same tables; you sleep in the same hotels... This is a kind of hypocrisy, right?
(He gets annoyed) When you work at your magazine, you don't necessarily want to see your co-workers after your day in the office, right? OK. Players are more or less co-workers so when we finish a day of work we don't want to meet again to have dinner. And neither do they, anyway.

You are still allowed to take the elevator together?
Yes, of course (laughs). I know French players, foreign ones; Federer knows the name of my daughter... We live together; we see each other all the time. Sometimes, it can happen that we stop for two minutes but it ends there: "Hello how are you, yes, no, you're refereeing my match today? Well, ok, see you tomorrow". You, a journalist, you talk about them. I judge them! It's very different. The day I'll have a bias, it will be time to stop.


Interview by Victor Le Grand