Linda Pearce, chief tennis writer at The Age

"The need for instant copy and deadline stories is insatiable, so you just have to keep churning it out." The Age's chief tennis writer talks to Claudia Alp.

What appealed to you about sport reporting?

I was a sports fanatic growing up so I watched every sport going and grabbed the paper in the morning and afternoon and read them straight to the back page. I was good at English and the idea of writing about something I loved was too good to refuse.

As a female reporting on a male-dominated industry, how did you get your name out there?

I started as a copygirl when I was 17 at the Weekly Times in 1985 and then all I ever wanted to do was sport. They had a position for a second-year cadet to cover district cricket and VFA football, which is like the VFL now. I was just desperate to get that spot. And so I did when it was my turn and then basically I just stayed. They never got rid of me after that!

What is your most memorable sports-related interview?

This year I interviewed John Millman who is an Australian tennis player with the most fantastic perspective on sport, life and tennis. I hung up from that one and wrote the best story I’ve written all year. His parents sent me a letter. He sent me a message. Lots of readers wrote in and said what a great story it was. So it doesn’t even have to be a famous person to make an impact.

What is your most awkward interview? 

I’ve had some really awkward ones where people give you one word answers. I got to know a few of them afterwards and I would say to them: ‘Do you remember that first interview? You gave me NOTHING!’ I’ve had some incidents in football dressing rooms when they weren’t as controlled as they are now. I remember going into one at Whitten Oval and the West Coast coach at the time singled me out of five or six guys and said to me: ‘So darl, what level of football have you played?’ People told me later that I should’ve said: ‘Look, I reckon I’ll still be reporting long after you’ve got the sack as coach.’ I didn’t quite have that in me at the time.

What was your most challenging moment as a sports journalist?

I was in London to work for The Age the morning after Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon and the ATP had organised a media interview with about a dozen people at his management’s house. When I got there I was told to leave. He wouldn’t enter until I’d left the room. To be denied access to his press conference when The Age had a front page spot for the story that was going to come out of it and then to be dismissed from the room was pretty challenging. I’d been banned by him for years because Patrick Smith had written that he was a national disgrace for carrying on in The Age a few years earlier. To be over there, having worked incredibly hard and written thousands of positive words about him as well as the occasional analysis of his behaviour, I was pretty shattered about this. But it’s okay. He’s retired. I outlived him.

How do you cope with deadline stress?

At Wimbledon this year I had my piece on the final. It was 900 words written and sent back to the office before the presentation ceremony. Then we dropped in a couple of quotes and it was online 10 minutes after the match had finished. It was actually one of my proudest moments of the two weeks. But the night before, at the women’s finals, for some reason it just didn’t happen for me. I watched the first set on the court and I wasn’t across it. I wasn’t happy with the result and 10 minutes later than I should’ve been. Sometimes quality does suffer and you finish the day feeling quite washed out by it all. But that’s how it is now. The need for instant copy and deadline stories is insatiable, so you just have to keep churning it out.

What advice would you give to potential sports journalists?

You need to have a real passion for sport. I think, like all good journalists, you have to have interest and curiosity and an ability to ask the right questions and I also think you need to have really good writing skills because in the end, that’s what draws people into your stories.  Be versatile because the jobs that were there when I first started aren’t the same jobs anymore and there are fewer of them. You have to think laterally and be flexible, incredibly digital and technology savvy, enthusiastic and realistic about what jobs are out there and adapt to them.