"Oh God, It's About Grunting Again": An Official Stenographer Dishes On Transcribing Tennis Players

Photo: Clive Brunskill ( Getty )

Photo: Clive Brunskill (Getty)

Tennis players do press constantly; it’s part of their job. They field questions about all the unforced errors on their forehand, why their first serve was so effective, or what does it feel like to pull off an upset like this, and they generally give tame and compact answers. So the journalists can write off of a central and accurate account of what was said at a presser, the tour employs a transcription service. These people have perhaps listened to more tennis players more carefully than anyone else in the world. (They have now also faced the challenge of transcribing Overwatch character names phonetically.) Linda Christensen, who helps to produce the official transcripts for the Indian Wells Masters and has worked various tennis tournaments for over a decade, told me what she’s picked up on the job.

Deadspin: You’ve been doing this for 11 years. Across those years you must see a total range of players from different countries, different accents. Are there certain accents that you’re especially familiar with now, or others that are still tricky?

Christensen: Some are still tricky. Quite honestly because we deal with speed as well, the funny part of that is the hardest speed-wise are the English speakers. The Australians and the Americans. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand the English as in—even Andy Murray sometimes can be a little tricky, or he was in the beginning.

His brogue.

Yeah. But the Aussies, especially if you are having Australian journalists asking an Australian player, they talk on top of each other and they anticipate what they’re gonna say.

Photo: Linda Christensen at work on her stenography keyboard

Photo: Linda Christensen at work on her stenography keyboard

Is there slang that’s sometimes hard to keep track of?

There’s little colloquialisms. And funny sayings. You know, Lleyton Hewitt. It’s just kind of fun to hear him say that he put in his “hahd yahds.” Or they always say—we as Americans for good luck say we “knock on wood.” And a lot of other nationalities say, in the middle of the phrase, “so I hope to do that—touch wood.”

What questions do you hear the most of? Are there any questions you hear so many times that you just tune out the answers?

It goes in cycles as well. For a few years it was about the grunting. So they would ad nauseum talk about how they were going to do away with grunting. And those who had already been coached to grunt as part of their swing took great issue with that. So it became, Oh God, it’s about grunting again. And then you’d get to a smaller country tournament where the local journalists hadn’t heard about it much, so you thought that issue was done, and they’d say, “I wanna talk about grunting.” And then the player would go, “Oh dear God not this again.” [Victoria] Azarenka had a funny one in Doha where a local reporter said, “I wanna talk to you about your grunting.” And she says, “Let me ask you this, do you snore? Do you think you could stop snoring if you had to?”