Aamir Khan swung the spotlight back on tennis with his chair umpire act at the Khar Gymkhana all-India women's open tennis tournament. He began tracking action on court from his vantage position as the finalists, Himani Mor and Tanushree Palanivel, lobbed and pounded the ball across the net under the floodlights.
Picking up the cue from him, photographers and cameramen switched focus back on tennis, a change from tracking the celebrity guest on the sidelines. Mr. Khan made his appearance at the Khar Gymkhana court when the second set was on. He clambered up the umpire's chair in the sixth game of the decider.
After trailing 2-3 at that point and both players trading breaks and fighting fatigue, Himani hung on to win 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 against a gritty rival in Tanushree. Mr. Khan, looking down from high above and wielding the microphone to announce the scores, took the two by surprise.
Asked to explain his decision to turn a match-official, Mr. Khan said tongue-in-cheek, “I thought umpiring would be better and decided to do something about it.” He praised both players for their intensity. “Every point was fought for. I congratulate Himani and Tanushree for a good exhibition of tennis,” he said.
Himani said, “There were so many distractions till then...the cameras, fans chasing him. I knew the focus had to be on winning enough points against a tough opponent.”
About any change in her outlook on Mr. Khan's arrival, she said, “I was excited on being told he would be coming to watch, and kept an eye out for him.”
After her rival slammed a forehand long on match point, the champion was asked to return to the court by Khar Gymkhana for few hits with the celebrity guest.
Tanushree, too, admitted that she was distracted by happenings away from court, and added that she tried to shut them out of her mind.
Asked about the way she faced the situation after sighting Mr. Khan in the umpire's chair, Tanushree said, “Initially, it was tough to focus, but got used to it as the match progressed. The body language of both girls changed and rallies got longer, the cameras panned on them and spectators joined in by cheering every point.
Haryana girl Himani and Tamil Nadu player Tanushree had overcome numerous distractions till then, drumbeats during points initially and later during changeovers between games. A celebrity chair umpire was not on their mind at one-set all.