Bob ‘Chris’ Christianson ’73

After four decades, it comes down to John McEnroe. Sometimes, when lying awake at night, I can still hear McEnroe screaming at me over and over again.

To set the stage, it’s 1982 in Louis Armstrong Stadium at the U.S. Open. The sold-out evening session crowd radiates energy, buzzed primarily on vodka and Stella Artois. The man they call “Superbrat” is losing to Gene Mayer and has chosen me as the reason. Yes, I’m scared, more accurately terrified and self-conscious. I’m well aware of the raucous crowd, photographers and TV cameras, not to mention a worldwide television audience. But I’m also just doing my job, and accurately, in my view. As this was my first brush with the greats of tennis, this episode remains the most memorable of an officiating career that has spanned 45 years.


I still find it odd that I was the only player from what I call the golden era of Bucknell tennis, 1970–72, to make tennis my career. I was the low man on a team led by, arguably, Bucknell’s greatest player of all time, Steve Baird ’72, P ’11, along with Alex Anderson ’71 and Jim Lackritz ’72. We rarely lost during those years, going undefeated in 1970 and even beating the “big boys,” including Penn State, Army, Navy, Rutgers, Syracuse and Colgate.
Bob Christianson officiates a Jimmy Connors match in Southern California
Photo: Courtesy of Bob Christianson ’73
Bob Christianson ’73 officiates a Jimmy Connors match in Southern California, circa 1995.

After graduation, I headed to San Diego with a high school tennis friend. I married and had a stable life as a banker and began officiating at the occasional tennis tournament. But after my divorce in 1989, I realized what I wanted was adventure and travel. I jumped at the chance to move from being a part-time to a full-time tennis official.

I got plenty of travel while officiating in about 15 countries and was selected to officiate for the Olympics, the Davis and Federation cups and numerous professional events. Until the most recent one, I was the longest-serving active official at the U.S. Open. This fall, I found myself really on the sidelines — just one of the 9.2 million TV viewers watching as Emma Raducanu beat fellow teen sensation Leylah Fernandez in the women’s finals. Now that on-court officials have been replaced by a machine, my 41-year stint at the U.S. Open is over.


There had been hints this was coming during a 10-year testing period for that machine, the Hawk-Eye Live, which ESPN describes as “a complex vision system where computer-linked cameras are used to track the trajectory of a ball to determine whether it was in or out, as well as catching foot faults.” McEnroe, who loved to argue with officials like me, would have hated it.

As I watched the latest Open, I realized that I actually felt relieved to be away from the stress, pressure and humidity at the annual “sleep-deprivation experiment” known as the U.S. Open. It was quite enjoyable watching the two-week span of action in my own air-conditioned living room.


I’ve attempted to put some order to the end of my pro officiating career and can now see some symmetry. With the passing of my mother in July 2020, it all begins to make sense. There is no loving, caring mother to visit each year prior to the Open and no more Opens for me. Also, at age 70, and with COVID-19 protocols, it was time. I can now see this as a confluence of major life events and can relax.

Still, I did miss my annual East Coast swing through to see my three brothers and their families, some high school and college friends, my annual breakfast with Steve Baird and, most important, my one and only Mom. Time waits for no one, but the game is still ongoing!

Bob Christianson ’73, an administration major, played varsity tennis at Bucknell. He still officiates pro matches throughout Southern California.