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Sanctioned for Misconduct, a Top Official Returns to the U.S. Open

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The individuals who officiate tennis matches are purported to exist in a quiet corner of the sports world, removed from the highlight. Typically, if average fans know the name of a tournament referee, supervisor, chair umpire or line judge, something has gone terribly flawed, creating rare noise inside an insular club whose members value rules and decorum over all else.

And so it has been for Soeren Friemel, a longtime top official for the U.S. Open, who stepped away last 12 months amid an investigation into accusations of harassment and inappropriate relationships with underlings but has returned as a tournament supervisor.

Earlier this 12 months, Friemel, who’s from Germany, resigned as the pinnacle of officiating for the International Tennis Federation, the game’s world governing body, after a disciplinary panel found that he had abused his power.

The USA Tennis Association initially stood by Friemel and planned to permit him to serve last 12 months because the U.S. Open tournament referee — the highest official on the event — as an investigation unfolded, but Friemel stepped away just before the competition. The tournament said he had to go away for “personal reasons.” The I.T.F. later suspended Friemel for a 12 months, ranging from June 2021.

The united statesT.A.’s decision this 12 months to bring him back to function one in all the tournament supervisors has rankled the small community of current and former tennis officials, despite the fact that it’s a lesser job than the celebrated and more public-facing post of tournament referee. Some ponder whether a supervisor who has violated codes of conduct can effectively implement them on others, even in the event that they consider, no less than theoretically, in second possibilities and forgiveness for poor behavior.

The I.T.F. has not released details of complaints filed about Friemel, when and where they occurred, and who made them. The accuser has remained anonymous. Details of Friemel’s suspension was first reported by The Telegraph in Britain in February; his suspension from the I.T.F., which other tournaments honored, resulted in mid-June.

Heather Bowers, senior director of communications for the I.T.F., said an investigative panel “found Mr. Friemel to have made inappropriate comments and invitation to a person in a situation of power imbalance, causing unease and discomfort.” The panel ruled that Friemel had violated sections of its codes that require officials to conduct themselves professionally and ethically; prohibit them from abusing a position of authority or control; and forbid them from compromising the psychological, physical or emotional health of other officials.

Norm Chryst, who umpired men’s tournaments and Grand Slam events for 19 years before retiring in 2010, said the ruling must have disqualified Friemel from serving as an official for America’s signature tennis tournament.

“A man that has been suspended by the I.T.F. for misconduct mustn’t be hired by the usT.A. to work on the U.S. Open,” said Chryst, who had previously worked with Friemel at a tournament in Germany.

One other top umpire resigned this spring from a top U.S.T.A. officiating committee over the choice to bring Friemel back. The umpire, Greg Allensworth, a fixture of the tours and Grand Slams, left his role as vice-chair of the usT.A. Officials Committee. Allensworth sent a blistering letter to the chair of the committee, which The Recent York Times has reviewed, stating that Friemel had verbally abused him in 2018. He also wrote that the ruling from the I.T.F. had caused Friemel to lose credibility along with his colleagues.

“The united statesT.A.’s decision on this matter is flawed, each practically and ethically,” wrote Allensworth, who declined to comment for this story.

The united statesT.A. didn’t make Friemel available for comment for this text. Chris Widmaier, the chief spokesman for the organization, issued a press release on behalf of the usT.A. saying that Friemel had served his suspension and noting his experience as a top official, implying that his experience merited his task on the tournament.

“On this instance, we determined that it was appropriate to bring Friemel back at a lower position, with less responsibility and authority, than he previously occupied,” the statement said. “We consider this decision is consistent with our unwavering commitment to the integrity of tennis and our policy requiring a workplace that is freed from abuse, harassment, or other misconduct.”

Friemel’s tenure at the highest of the usT.A.’s hierarchy of officials was rocky from the beginning. The united statesT.A. had planned to present the U.S. Open tournament referee position to Mark Darby, a longtime official with the ATP, when Brian Earley stepped down in 2018 after 26 years within the role. But Darby pulled out five months before the 2019 tournament after being diagnosed with a serious illness. Widmaier said the organization needed to make a fast decision and turned to Friemel, who had served because the chief umpire for the U.S. Open from 2016 to 2018.

American tennis officials weren’t pleased. Roughly a dozen of them wrote a letter to the usT.A. complaining that the organization had missed several qualified Americans for the job. While the usT.A. has a protracted history of hiring foreign talent throughout the organization, the officials argued that and not using a proper search and interview process, the usT.A. had simply given away a top job at its signature event. The letter, which The Recent York Times has reviewed, was signed “USTA Umpires.”

Friemel impressed U.S.T.A. executives along with his performance on the 2019 U.S. Open, and however on the pandemic-restricted 2020 Open. There, he made the choice to default Novak Djokovic — then the world No. 1, the heavy favorite to win the tournament and the boys’s draw’s biggest star — after Djokovic by accident swatted a ball into the throat of a line judge during his fourth-round match.

Afterward, Friemel calmly explained the ruling, saying that while Djokovic had not intended to hit the road judge, because he had and she or he had suffered an injury, regulations required an automatic default.

Widmaier said the usT.A. had begun pursuing a plan to organize Jake Garner, an American, to succeed Friemel because the tournament referee. But that process slowed amid the canceled tournaments and travel restrictions attributable to the pandemic. Garner, who’s one in all two assistant referees this 12 months, is anticipated to take excessive job from Wayne McKewen of Australia in the course of the next two years, Widmaier said.

In the intervening time, though, the usT.A. stays committed to employing Friemel, even when he now not has the anonymous existence that officials prefer to keep up.

“My job was to be invisible,” said Chryst, the previous chair umpire. “Because when you don’t know my name then I even have done an excellent job.”

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