Passionate professional tennis fans on the North Coast can be excused if they experience a sense of envy over the work Cambria’s Darius Kaviani performs at tournaments around the country — including at this year’s U.S. Open.
Kaviani stands just a few feet from celebrated superstars like Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadel, Maria Sharapova and Novak Djokovic, among others.
Kaviani is a certified referee and umpire, the linesman who shouts “Fault!” when a ball lands just outside the lines.
Now in his 15th year of umpiring at the U.S. Open — which started Monday and runs through Sept. 2 in Flushing Meadows, New York — the physically fit, animated Iranian immigrant (who came to the U.S. in 1959) is blessed with extraordinarily keen eyesight, which he says is “better than 20-20.”
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His first assignment was scheduled for Tuesday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
He makes clear that his razor-sharp eyesight results from the “triple lens implant” he had a few years ago. Kaviani is fiercely proud of his abilities; and on an early August morning in his tree-shaded Cambria home, he shared stories that illustrate his competencies.
At the Mubadale Silicon Valley Classic (formerly the Bank of the West Tournament) in San Jose in July, an elite women-only event, his calls were challenged 11 times. “I won them all,” he said.
“I’m kind of proud,” he added with a smile and twinkle in eyes.
“In the Mubadale tournament, I called a ball out because I saw a tiny space between the ball and the line. I’m not kidding,” he said, “it was sitting right next to the line. It was out.”
The slow-motion video replay challenge confirmed the call.
U.S. Open officials check umpires’ eyesight during even years, and they conduct a personal background checks during odd years. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) also certifies him, and he referees at universities around the country.
“If I wasn’t good enough they wouldn’t ask me,” he said.
In 2018, he has worked tournaments at Boston College, Clemson University, UCLA, Cal Poly and other venues.
Life and times
Kaviani learned English in an American school in Iran, and after arriving in California in 1959, he worked several odd jobs (delivery boy, painter, etc.) to support himself. In time, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Yuba College and master’s at Fresno State. He taught physical education and coached tennis for 29 years at Tulare High School in the San Joaquin Valley.
In those 29 years, his tennis teams won 23 league championships.
Asked when he plans to retire, he indicated it might be two or three years.
But he added, “Oh God, I can’t do without my tennis.”
“I will do it as long as I can,” he said.
He declined to give his age, saying, “I’m old enough.”
He said he would be thrilled to win most coveted awards given at the U.S. Open — the John T. McGovern Umpire Award, but at the same time, he’s mostly focused on his work.
“I never rock the boat; I go do my job,” he said. “I rest and try not to make a mistake, and I take my job very seriously. When I’m on the court, I’m 200 percent. I concentrate, and I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m alert and I listen.”
The award certainly wouldn’t be his first.
He’s won “lots of awards” in his career, he said, including being named to the Tulare High School Hall of Fame.
‘You have to concentrate’
How does he put aside even the tiniest distraction and focus like a laser while working a match?
“In tennis, when you’re in the Arthur Ashe Stadium … you have to concentrate. And when you call a ball ’fault,’ you have to call it loud enough so the chair umpire can hear it.”
He said when the call is very close, “I squeeze my hands so hard you can actually see my veins.”
In a few years, according to Kaviani, there won’t be human referees at events like the U.S. Open — it will be all electronically officiated.
“They’re already talking about it,” he said, his voice lowering.
It will mean, for example, that Kaviani won’t have to engage with angry tennis players, like for example, a young player from El Salvador who got in his face during a 2017 tournament in Stockton. Kaviani called a ball good, which aided the man’s opponent.
“The kid went nuts. They had to call the supervisor,” Kaviani said. “The kid shouted, ‘You’re trying to take a couple thousand dollars away from me!’ The chair umpire said to him, ‘What are you talking about? He’s one of our top umpires.’
“Sometimes they come after you, like that kid from El Salvador.”