Shino Tsurubuchi hates that you know what she looks like. A tennis official since 2002, she was positioned at the far baseline during the 2009 U.S. Open women's semifinal between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters. Two points from losing the match, Williams nicked the baseline with her foot as she hit a second serve. "Foot fault," declared Tsurubuchi.
You likely know what happened next. Williams unleashed a string of asterisks and ampersands and threats, the worst of them involving asphyxiation of Tsurubuchi via tennis ball. Having already been assessed a warning for an earlier breach of etiquette, Williams was penalized a point for her eruption, ending the match.
Tsurubushi was quickly whisked away from the complex that night, but by the time she had returned to her hotel, L'Affaire Foot Fault was gaining traction. And while tennis officials declined to indentify Tsurubuchi by name, her bespectacled face had become a worldwide image.
A "white badge" level official, she quietly worked several ATP events in the fall. Though assigned to none of Serena's matches, she worked at the Australian Open as well. And she has been assigned six straight ATP events in the United States this spring, taking a break only to jet back to Japan and pay a quick visit to a friend suffering a recurrence of cancer.
We caught up with Tsurubuchi at the ATP Delray Beach event.
A slight women who speaks in halting English, she generously took a few questions on the condition none pertain to a specific player (i.e. Serena, who was fined $82,500 for her outburst and is on tennis' equivalent of double secret probation.)
SI.com: What have the last five months been like for you?
Shino Tsurubuchi: I was feeling a little bit down. But I am okay now, now I am fine. Many people know my face and that's tough for me. [As an official] you do not want to be famous.
SI.com:Do you think you made the right call? If you had to do it again would you make the same call?
Tsurubuchi: Yes. I think as umpires, if it's a foot fault, we should call a foot fault. But usually I am at the baseline and I wish -- I pray -- for players: "Please don't touch that line!" I don't like to make that call because players are not happy. But if players touch the line, we have to make the call. But, yes, I pray, "Please don't touch that line because if you touch the line I have to call it and I don't want to."
SI.com:So there are not two sets of rules, one for the first set and one when the match is tight.
Tsurubuchi: Yes. It's very tough.
SI.com:Do you feel you've done your job differently since?
Tsurubuchi: I can work. ATP gave me many opportunities [since] and I am very happy. I am a lucky person. Many umpires want to work ATP in U.S. It's difficult and it makes me happy. I appreciate the opportunity.
SI.com: But you never thought, 'This is too much for me; no more officiating'?
Tsurubuchi: I have a dream. I was never thinking about quitting my job of umpiring. I want to be a good line umpire, it's my dream and I've spent eight years of my time.
SI.com:You've worked your way up.
Tsurubuchi: Yes, in 2007 I get the opportunity to work the U.S. Open. It was very great. I like Arthur Ashe Stadium. It's very fun. Everything is exciting, the lights, the music. It's a great court.
SI.com:So you'll be there in 2010?
Tsurubuchi: I want to come back because my favorite tournament is the U.S. Open. I love it. I want to work [again] it's very important for me.