RYAN Peniston’s recent results have firmly put Southend Lawn Tennis Club on the map but he is not the only club member to be doing well at the very top of the game.

For Lawn’s men team captain James Driscoll is making huge strides umpiring in the sport.

And he will also be at Wimbledon next week after making huge strides forward himself in the past 12 months.

“Since June 2021 it’s been hectic but immensely enjoyable and a privilege,” said the Southend based Driscoll.

“Last year I was able to work at the professional grass court tournaments including fulfilling a dream of mine to umpire at Wimbledon.

“It was a unique experience as all officials were in a bubble for three weeks.

“Being in a close environment and getting to know officials from all over the world including those I look up to was fantastic.

“In the year since I have been promoted to Professional Chair Umpire and travelled all over the UK for various levels of tournaments.

“So far this year I’ve been on the road most weekends while maintaining a nine til five job in London.

“The past month has been fantastic experiencing a normal grass court season and I am thoroughly looking forward to experiencing a normal Wimbledon at the end of the month.

Driscoll warmed up for Wimbledon by officiating as a line judge at Eastbourne this week having previously officiated at Surbiton, Nottingham and Birmingham this summer.

And it was own interest in playing tennis which eventually led to Driscoll working on the side of the court.

“I’ve played tennis since 2003 at Southend Lawn Tennis Club and like a lot of kids, I dreamt about being a pro,” said Driscoll, who is also chairman of the Leigh & Westcliff Lawn Tennis Association.

“Early on it was evidently never going to happen but that didn’t stop me from watching tennis on TV religiously for almost 13 years.

“That made me think about other ways I could still get involved in the professional game.

“One thing that immediately stood out were the umpires as we arguably have the best seat in the house.

“In 2014 I researched on the LTA’s website how to become an umpire and the steps involved but for whatever reason, I decided not to pursue it at the time.

“Looking back, I wish I’d started sooner as who knows where I’d be now!”

However, Driscoll - who is a keen Southend United supporter - did eventually renew his interest.

“At the end of 2017 I looked at it again and decided to apply to go on the basic line umpire course held at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton,” said the 26-year-old

“Initially I wasn’t selected however four days before the course I received a phone call from the LTA saying a space had become available so would I still like to attend? I didn’t have to think twice about my answer!

“The call came through as no caller ID and I don’t normally answer those so it’s a good job I answered this one!

“I went on the one day course which is has a simple pass or fail mark.

“Once I’d passed this course I was licensed to be on the lines at non-professional events such as county and local events.”

And it was at that level Driscoll continued to learn more about officiating.

“You gain experience at these events for a year or two before the LTA and ABTO (Association of British Tennis Officials) decide via the assessments and feedback received, whether you’re good enough to go on a further course to become a non-professional chair umpire,” explained Driscoll.

“Once I’d passed this stage I was licensed to chair at non-professional tournaments across the country while also being able to be on the lines on professional events such as Wimbledon.

“I was beginning to really get my feet under the table with this at the end of 2019 but then COVID struck and I only did two more events until June 2021.”

But, with the tennis tour now back in full swing, Driscoll continues to make the most of every opportunity coming his way.

And it is a role he is relishing.

“It’s hard to describe what I enjoy most about being an umpire as there are so many emotions you experience,” said Driscoll.

“During a match it’s high intensity focus and once you finish a match, you swiftly move onto the next.

“The most important ball is the next one and you don’t have time to think about anything else.

“But I would say the people I’ve met so far make it have made it most enjoyable. “While you might be colleagues first and foremost at a tournament, you quickly develop friendships and a strong sense of camaraderie.

“Everyone has a different story how they got into officiating and have experienced a variety of situations on court.

“I especially find it fascinating picking the brains of those who’ve reached the top by doing Grand Slam finals and other major tournaments around the world.

“I aspire to get to that level.”

But Driscoll will not be looking too far ahead.

“My immediate hopes are to have a successful grass court season on the lines and then finish the year strongly back up in the chair which hopefully will result in a further promotion at the beginning of next year,” said Driscoll.

“Further ahead, I want to continue building on my experiences so far and be given bigger tournaments and matches.

“My dream is to make it to a full time chair umpire and be able to travel the world doing it.

“I have always said my target is to go as far as can with the next step being the most important one.

“But whether this will result in me reaching my dream, only time will tell. “