After working for nearly a decade as a successful restaurateur and entrepreneur, Pierre Bacchi thought it was time for a change — and when all was said and done, the Frenchman carved out his own unique path to become one of the world’s best tennis umpires.

Born in Paris and raised both there and in Antibes in the southeast with a mother who worked as a high school administrator, it might’ve seemed logical that Bacchi studied to be an educator — but he first found professional success in the food industry, in which he also had strong family ties.

After a year of military service in the French army, the young Bacchi was hired by the Mercure Hotels chain in Paris — which he called less of a “vocation, and more of an opportunity,” — and, after resettling in southern France in 1996, ultimately ran his own restaurant that became quite popular in the area.

“Every generation in my family, there’s one guy who is running a restaurant,” he said. “I had an uncle who ran one of the best restaurants in France. It was very famous, but he was always saying how he was working very hard, seven days a week, with only one week of holidays a year.

“He always said, ‘When I retire at 60, I’ll enjoy life,’ and he died six months later. So I started to think that it’s okay to work in this business for a while, but it’s very tiring and demanding.

“When I was around 35, I was looking towards something else: to enjoy life when we can, and not betting on the future and that we’re going to be able to enjoy life later.”

A self-professed sports enthusiast who enjoyed judo and tennis, and also had a successful stint playing handball as a goalkeeper in the French second league, Bacchi was ultimately set on his current path thanks to a fateful chat with Christian Bimes, the former president of the French tennis federation.

Bimes, a regular customer in his restaurant, was the first to suggest that he pursue officiating.

Miami Open/Lindsey Goodwin

“I was playing tennis but I was not very good. I was just a fan, but I was not what people would call a ‘real fan.’ I never followed one player. I just liked the game,” Bacchi recalled.

“He said, ‘As you’re a tennis fan and if you’ll have some time off, why don’t you try officiating? We are always looking for officials,’ and he gave me the contact information for the regional officiating director.

“We sold the restaurant in June 2002, and I started [officiating] in that July. I had no real expectations in terms of doing events or anything — in fact, when I started at the French federation, they questioned if maybe it was late for the new career, and if I was going to be able to be more than a white badge.

“I just was doing the best I could, and at some point, the French federation decided that the age wasn’t a big deal, so they bet on me and sent me to the schools, but I never planned for any of that. It just came naturally.”

After proceeding through the three levels of national officiating in France — an immersive FFT education structure which Bacchi, now 53, credits for the presence of himself and his many compatriots in international tennis — he earned his white badge in 2006 and bronze badge in 2008 at an ITF Level 3 officiating school in Cairo, Egypt.

Related: Interview with an umpire: Anja Vreg on life in the chair

He started working as a chair umpire in professional tournaments at that time, earning promotion to a silver badge in 2011 and gold badge in 2016. After spending two years in the ATP Tour’s second team of umpires, Bacchi joined the WTA’s top team at the end of 2018, and has spent the past year getting acquainted while also serving as a mentor for WTA umpires who are on the rise.

Volvo Car Open/Keeley

“This first year was an adaptation period for me. Even if I knew everyone in the team, we never really worked together before,” he said. “I’ve felt really well-accepted by the team and they’ve all helped me to feel comfortable and feel like I was in the team for many years. We are in touch all the time and we help and support each other when needed.

“I have also started working in the WTA officiating development program by helping upcoming chair umpires to integrate into the WTA umpires’ group, by being accessible to those who have questions or requests for help.

“I would like to give upcoming chair umpires the feeling that it is easy to talk about any subject with us and helping them in their lives as chair umpires on the tour. If you’re not patient at the beginning, it will not work. You have to enjoy the life of officiating, do your job well, and if it’s supposed to happen, it’ll happen.

“Even if everybody is different, getting the experience of gold badges on the tour can help them make the right choices, and to know what to do or not to do to be a good official.”

Read more: WTA Development & Promotional Program for Officials enters 10th year

Now living in Fréjus, a town on the southeast coast about a half hour from the city of Nice, with his wife and two dogs, Bacchi is proof that there is not just one path to take to reach a fulfilling career — and says that despite where the job has taken him so far, he never strays too far from his roots, literally and figuratively.

“When I am home, we try to make every day a great day. I still like cooking for friends and like to organize evenings and dinners for them,” he said.

“I have the luck of having a very supportive wife who supported me a lot at the beginning when I was not working a lot. She’s accepting of me going away six months a year for work… but the dogs, they don’t like it when I start packing.

“When I’m not traveling around the world for tennis, we like going hiking with the dogs, traveling and being in nature in general… which is good after weeks spent in tennis with big crowds.

“I feel really lucky to have a job that’s a passion and a successful private life.”