Linda Pearce on footy, Federer and finding your way

Just days after Roger Federer became the oldest world number one in history, veteran tennis writer Linda Pearce revealed what the Fed is like off the court.

“He’s just lovely and he remembers you wherever you would go. He’s so incredibly special… and that just shows how well-mannered he is,” she said.

“He’s just got an aura about him”: Linda Pearce with tennis great Roger Federer.

“He’s just got an aura about him,” she added.

“I don’t think there’s a global sports star that has the cachet or the aura that Roger does.”

Getting to interview one of the greatest tennis players in history was one of the high points of what has been a wide-ranging career for Pearce, who has covered Australian Rules football, netball and the Olympic Games in a legendary career that began when women were a rarity in the male-dominated field of sportswriting.

With a family history in the sports industry, with her father working at the Melbourne Football Club during their golden period in the 1950s, Pearce was determined to follow in his footsteps and get involved in sport herself, eventually settling on pursuing a journalism career.

“I always wanted to be in sport somehow, and I thought I was a good writer at school, maybe sports writing might be my go!” she said.

Speaking about how she managed to get a start in the industry when she was just 17, she mused: “Caroline Wilson was the only woman sportswriter in town, so I thought – there’s someone doing it, so it’s not impossible!”

In 1998, Pearce became the lead tennis writer for The Age.

In her Q&A with journalism students at Macleay College, she shared her favourite memories of covering over 50 Grand Slam tournaments – listing the 2001 Wimbledon final between Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic as a personal highlight.  

“It was a Monday final… all the Aussies and people who were mad sports lovers queued up and the atmosphere on centre court when both walked out was incredible”.

She also listed the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Rafael Nadal as a highlight – and remembered one of the problems with covering sport, especially in tight contests.

“When you go into a fifth set, you have two versions of the story, so (in 2008) you have ‘Roger wins’ and ‘Rafa wins’.” – referring to the fifth set of that Wimbledon final which fell into darkness.

The personal highlight of Pearce’s career came when she was awarded the Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award from the ATP in 2015. Pearce made history as the first woman to win it, and just the second Australian after Alan Trengove.

Her best advice to budding journalists hoping to follow in her footsteps?

“Ask advice from people that you respect. The best skill is just talking to people. As someone said to me once: ‘You never get a story sitting at your desk’. You have to get out and about, you have to listen, you have to ask, you have to store things away.”