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An Interview With The U.S. Open Stenographers Who Wade Through Scattered Thoughts And Xbox References

U.S. Open stenographers Michele Cook and Linda Christensen.
Photo: Giri Nathan|

From left to right: Michele Cook and Linda Christensen.

In the main interview room at the U.S. Open, players file in and out, talking to the assembled media about triumph or defeat. One constant in the room over those two weeks is the stenographers who produce invaluable transcripts for the journalists. Five years ago at Indian Wells I spoke to longtime tennis stenographer Linda Christensen, and I enjoyed her insights into the players she listens to so closely. On Saturday before the U.S. Open women's final, I checked in again with Christensen and her colleague Michele Cook to see what's changed in the years since. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Last time we were talking a lot about the 2017, 2018 characters. Some of them have now aged out of the game, but who are your favorite players to listen to these days?

Linda Christensen: Ben Shelton has a really great story, of course, but that's still very, very new. I think I can speak for both of us: We enjoyed listening to [Daniil] Medvedev. He's very interesting, very smart, very genuine. He owns up if he has lost his temper, and he realizes he has a short fuse and always takes responsibility. And he walks in and always says, "Hey guys," and talks to them [the media] like they're having a beer at a country club.

Yeah, he's both very blunt and precise. Are there players that you find especially challenging to transcribe?

Michele Cook: Where do we begin? They happen to be Americans.

LC: Surprisingly, our most difficult are English-speaking, like the Australians. I think we talked about that. They have all their little colloquialisms and they short-form—

MC: Everything.

LC: While we love certain players when they're playing, when they come in, we dread them, because they are very difficult. An example, the latest one, is Christopher Eubanks. We love watching him. But because he has commentated—he has such little time to say all those words—it makes our job harder.

MC: He can get in a five-minute interview in one and a half minutes.

LC: It's very fast. And [Frances] Tiafoe. He has all those little short-form names and things that he'll say very quickly under his breath. He has a whole different jargon. Sometimes all we hear is the expletive.

MC: That, we can get.

LC: A lot of journalists look to us, [asking], "What did he say?" You think we know? We have to re-listen to it, sometimes multiple times.

He's a bit of a mumbler. With the younger players—I saw Coco [Gauff] making a reference to an anime that she watches. Do you guys find yourselves having to look up some of these reference points?

LC: Medvedev, he's a huge gamer, right? [I'm] looking up Xbox names of games that I don't play, but it's important to them.

MC: Or they mention a song that's their inspiration [whispering] that I've never heard of. But that's an age thing for us.

Is that a matter of, once the rest of the transcript is cleaned up, you guys just pop a quick Google search in—

MC: While we're doing it.

So while they're still talking?

MC: That's what I am doing.

LC: I mean—Jimmy Butler, you know, some of the basketball players and things are fine.

MC: Beyonce, you know, and [the] Renaissance tour or whatever.

It's the more obscure interests.

LC: Or [if] they've referred to a lyric and you don't even know the song or the artist, you're like, Whoa, we got to google and google and google.

The time last time we spoke, you said that the Serbians spoke in clearest syntax. Do you find that still to be true?

LC: They do. Novak [Djokovic] is very, very well spoken.

He speaks in paragraphs. Crystalline.

LC: Ana Ivanovic used to [do that] always. Jelena Jankovic used to. There are some Czechs who are very clear, like Karolina Muchova. But Petra Kvitova still throws us. She giggles a lot. Then she swallows all those words in—well, what was that, Petra?

Am I right that you have a tennis-specific database in your shorthand?

LC: Yeah, I write in our language, but I have specific words and phrases and names and things that apply only to tennis. Where if I were doing some legal work, I'm gonna type the same thing, but it means a totally different thing.

And there would be specific, like, proper nouns encoded? The players whose names might come up the most.

LC: Yeah, we call it a brief. We might have a brief for "Carlos." We might have a brief for "Carlitos." We might have a brief for "Alcaraz," and we might have a brief for "Carlos Alcaraz."

Just to be comprehensive. And I bet Coco's probably in there as well.

LC: Oh yeah. Although it's funny, there was CoCo Vandeweghe, and she does a different capitalization. Things like that, you have to know which one. Well, Andrey Rublev, there was Andre Agassi, there's all sorts of Andres—Andreas, Andrea. Some of those, you have to know who they're talking about and which spelling, and [Michele's] so good at catching those as I'm writing them, because I may have written the wrong Andre.

You probably develop an intuitive sense of which players know each other and are bringing each other up in this setting.

LC: Well, yeah. Or we've covered a prior tournament where, "Oh! They had that incident at the net," and we know what they're talking about or referring to. Or it was on Twitter.

So it helps you to keep up with the beef on tour.

LC: We try.

Yeah, that's fun. I do that too. Are there questions you are sick of hearing? Most of them, maybe?

MC: Most of them [smiling]. But I mean, you know, we talk about—that you all have to find a little nugget, when they've repeated the same thing over. We get that that's your job.

Have you had a character as uniformly sunny and smiley as Carlos [Alcaraz] in the press conference room in a while? To me, that feels kind of new.

LC: Ons Jabeur is always really positive.

Oh, she's amazing.

LC: She doesn't take a lot of things too overly serious. She's having fun. I mean, of course, when she loses, she's sad, but she's very personable. I don't know of anybody who couldn't like her.

Last time we spoke, we talked about Rafa [Nadal] having a very intuitive style of communication that we all found enjoyable. Are there players that you find insightful or wise in that way? Sadly, he's missing from this tournament.

LC: He did come up with good nuggets, always.

MC: We still love him. We love him.

LC: We want him to come back and win five more Grand Slams. Let me think a minute on that. It's amazing how the young are insightful. Coco Gauff is very wise. She's very wise for her age. So is Ben Shelton.

MC: Like [Friday] night, he caught the things he needs to mature on.

LC: And for him [that] night, with Novak having imitated his dialing in, they asked him about that, and he said, Well, imitation is the greatest form of flattery and I'll leave it at that. Yeah, I thought that was—for a 20-year-old to have that composure!

Kind of struck the right note—a little bit of a comeback, but dignified as well.

LC: Yeah, he played that really well.

After these two weeks, are there some of these voices that you hear just replaying in your head?

LC: Like PTSD? I say with laughter. Not really.

MC: Journalists? Or do you mean players? [laughing]

I've noticed that players seem to master English with incredible speed.

MC: Yeah, I've noticed Carlos, since he's risen so quickly. It's the beginning, his answers were "yes, no," and then if he tried, we got nothing. But now he's a little more comfortable with the language.

Cracking jokes!

LC: We can tell if they've been injured and had to go back home and then they [weren't] speaking English. Like Rafa, he'd come back [to tour], we'd say, "Whoa, he's been in Mallorca far too long."

He's coining new words, maybe. Anyone coining new words on the tours these days?

LC: Coco has—what did she say? Giving somebody ... what was the word you had to look up?

MC: Showing our age: "dap." I had to ask the boys [younger staffers in the room]. I was like, "I don't know what that means." That's what we both heard. Just wanted to double-check. But then we heard it like three more times. So it's like—see? Now we know!

It's in your arsenal now.

LC: Exactly. We're so hip.

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