From the players' mouths to your eyes
NEW YORK -- They are beloved in the media room. Valued more than coffee and the free tortilla chips. More accurate than a Serena serve and more reliable than a Rafa backhand.
They are the chroniclers of the US Open as they are of countless other major sporting events, though they are allowed no literary license. They are witnesses to the biggest championships in sport, yet only after the events are over.
Linda Christensen and Julie Rabe, stenographers for asap sports, inc., the FastScripts company, are responsible for transcribing every utterance from every interview given by the players here, which means they have stories to tell and opinions they don't mind sharing.
They don't care for the mumblers. Foreign players who do not enunciate are especially prone to this, but the worst are the Americans.
"Especially the young Americans," Rabe says.
They leave in all the "you knows" in their official interview transcripts, in part because they record everything that is said but also because they think it would be helpful for the worst offenders to see how it looks in print. And what about the foreign players taking their best stab at English?
"They have cute little errors that we like," Rabe says.
"Nikolay Davydenko says everything in reverse order," Christensen says. "That chair you sat, that pen you write. And he has a great sense of humor."
"He thinks he's funny," Rabe says.
The duo have a great time teasing back and forth with the British media.
"Especially with 'color' and 'flavor,'" Christensen says. "They want to know, 'Why isn't it colour and flavour?' and we say, 'Improve your language. There's no 'e' in judgment; it doesn't need an 'e.' "They say 'Why not 'Centre Court' instead of 'Center'? And we say, 'Not here.' "
Christensen did legal work for 22 years and sports for the past eight. She still does some legal work and close captioning for television. Rabe was a court reporter for 20 years, the past eight in sports. But both love tennis and now travel 20 to 30 weeks a year with the pro tennis and golf tours, and also do some college football, all of which makes the lawyers who once treated them like furniture suddenly ask if they can be their assistants.
Working as a team, one does the steno, the other almost simultaneous editing so that the final transcript is completed almost instantly when the news conference ends. And together, they're like a married couple themselves, finishing each other's sentences, though not as bad as some mixed-doubles teams .
"They're all so deferential to each other. They want to say, 'Oh, you were the best player. No, you were. No, you were,' " Christensen says.
"So when they're talking back and forth like that, we have to hit symbol blah blah blah, symbol blah blah, symbol," Rabe says.
"It's like, OK," Christensen says, "we know you love each other."
On the other hand, there was Marat Safin, the now-retired fiery Russian player, who left few of his feelings to the imagination.
"We've had, um, entities, say 'Hey, we're not sure if he meant that,' or 'Can you take that out?'" Rabe says. "Well, no. Clearly the journalists heard Marat say the 'F-bomb.' He did that on his farewell tour. Every tournament we did, we'd catch his last one and he didn't need or want to hold anything back."
If it's something minor -- one comment that's "silly," says Christensen -- and a player asks them to leave it off the transcript, they might oblige.
But there is no censoring a player who curses or complains about a call, an opponent or even the tour.
"They wouldn't ask us to do that," Christensen says. "Journalists would be up in arms."
"If we do that," Rabe says, "then how can they count on what we have out there? And if they can't count on what we have out there, then why do they need us? And we don't have a job."
"We are the scribes," Christensen says. "We write what they say and we have to be objective."
Two years ago, when Rafael Nadal suddenly slumped to the floor with a severe leg cramp at a US Open postmatch news conference, the room was immediately cleared of reporters. But Christensen and Rabe, from their post just a few feet from the players podium, had a clear view of what was happening.
"We'd see tweets from people hypothesizing what really happened," Christensen says, "and we're sitting there going, 'We can see him; he has a cramp."
"People were wondering if he had some other kind of malady," Rabe says.
"But we don't tweet," Christensen says, "because we're impartial."