PARIS — Linda Christensen and Julie C. Rabe spend their year around professional athletes, mostly tennis players; travel the world from tournament to tournament; adjust to the players’ personalities and tics, their speed and pace.
They care little, though, about Rafael Nadal’s forehand, or whether he will win his seventh French Open championship Sunday. They care far more about the cadence, speed and delivery of his speech, the way “matches” sounds like “match-cheese” and “limiting” comes out “lim-might-ing.”
Christensen and Rabe prefer to be called stenographers, or transcribers, although they have come to expect the inevitable pun. In their business, though, court reporters actually work in courtrooms. Christensen and Rabe just happen to work near tennis courts, not legal ones.
They, too, have seen the stereotypical stenographer on courtroom dramas, usually an older woman typing incredibly slowly, her hair tied tightly in a bun. Their jobs are nothing like that, except for the whole typing part.
“I teach students that while husbands and boyfriends may come and go, but this machine will be in your life forever,” Christensen said, as she gestured at her machine, the one with 23 condensed keys that resembled a mini-organ.
Both work for ASAP, a transcription service whose motto is “When all is said we’re done.” They transcribe all postmatch news conferences, usually from the English translation, word for word, every “um,” every “like,” every swear word from Marat Safin.
In five years together, this transcription twosome has become part of the men’s and women’s professional tennis tours, a patch in the quilt, part of the periphery, like umpires or ballboys or publicists.
They know that players from Spain and Argentina are more likely to be late and Nadal will apologize for his tardiness. They know Ana Ivanovic will speak as if paid for each word uttered, at 330 words each minute, according to their records. They know that some players, like Li Na, will react glumly after losses.
They know, in fact, whether their job is likely to be easy or difficult, depending on which player comes inside the interview room and how that player did.
“Andy Roddick?” said Christensen, who is from Phoenix. “Oh my goodness gracious. Wow. He can be quick.”
For transcription, though, speed matters far less than cadence. That is why they like the Serbians, who speak in mostly perfect rhythm. That is why the Russians, with their machine gun-like staccato, are more difficult to follow. Even the Americans can be tough, because they generally speak quickly and with many “ums” and “likes.”
“James Blake says, ‘I know the stenographers hate me,’ ” Rabe said. “And we don’t disabuse him of that notion. He’s very difficult.”
Christensen added: “We just nod and say, ‘You’re right.’ I’m sure he’s a very nice man.”
Then there are the Scottish players, difficult even for professionals who transcribe between 260 and 300 words per minute.
“They say they speak English,” Christensen said.
For the most part, these tennis typists love their jobs. Both are language buffs, the kind of people who police social media to clear up confusion over “your” and “you’re.” Rabe freely admitted she would call her children’s school if she spotted an incorrect sign. (Sample: “Every day is not one word!”)
While many similarly minded people end up in legal transcription, where perhaps two students in every beginning class of 25 will stick with it, few work in sports. The number of people who perform jobs similar to Christensen and Rabe is believed to be fewer than 50, closer to 35. They must book their own travel, get from tournament to tournament, understand players who speak in different accents, at different speeds, and talk their way into arenas in different languages to pick up credentials.
“This job is a sprint,” said Rabe, who is from Vancouver, Wash. “In court, you can stop people, slow people down. Here you just hang on for dear life.”
For the tournaments they work alone, they expect to provide a full transcript in the same amount of time or less than the interview itself.
Rarely does it take more than 15 minutes. Except for when they must look up obscure references, like a tournament played in some Latvian village at age 12.
The actual typing is done in phonetic combinations. Instead of m-u-c-h, they tap “m”, “uh,” and “ch” in a single stroke, like a note on the piano that requires more than one key. They also have shorthand for words certain to be used often — backhand, rhythm, crosscourt, atmosphere, Roland Garros — a “one-stroker” in stenographers’ parlance.
Reporters seem to find the transcripts handy, the quotations available, quickly, while on deadline. The players seem pleased that there is an accurate record of what they said. Sometimes, for repeat questions, they will instruct reporters to “check the transcript.” Others times, Christensen added, “they’ll lean over and say, ‘Don’t type that.’ ”
Theirs is an unusual vantage point. Nadal sliding from his chair at the United States Open last year with a cramp, only a few feet away. Or when Lleyton Hewitt did one Australian Open interview at 5:30 a.m. Or when Roger Federer talked about breast feeding.
Should a particular transcription go well, or poorly, they take the same view as the players: there will be more “match-cheese” tomorrow.
Original Article: The New York Times