For The Ages

By Jane Voigt

January 18, 2013 -- You may remember her from her first go-round in the mid-90s. Back then her name was Kimiko Date. She has since married and now goes by Kimiko Date-Krumm (broom with a 'k' up front). And at 42 she is having her best results at Melbourne Park ... in singles and in doubles. 

The Japanese woman holds the distinction of being the oldest of 256 singles players at this year's Australian Open, and "'the oldest female winner at the tournament since the sport turned fully professional in 1968,'" reported The Australian.

With her spry sense of humor in gear she brushed off the attention. "'It's nothing. Just I eat a lot; I sleep a lot,'" she told the press on site, adding, "'Always after the match I'm tired, so I need time to recover a lot. I eat healthy foods. I drink a lot. It's a simple life. Nothing special."

Tell that to the women she's ousted during the first week of competition. 

Round one ... Nadia Petrova, the #12 seed, left court with her head down after the five-four Date-Krumm drubbed the Russian, 62 60.

"She is one tough cookie," Petrova, now 30, said. "She's not an easy opponent. Players underestimate her."

In round two Kimiko gave former top-15 player, Shahar Peer, the same treatment, defeating the Israeli 62 75. Considering that Date-Krumm's last win in Melbourne came 17 years ago, when she was the #5 seed, pressing through to the third round now says buckets about her.

"My body is feeling lots good," she told the press. "My tennis was not so bad."

Seventeen years ago, American wildcard Madison Keyes wasn't even born and Briton Laura Robson, the 18 year-old that beat #8 seed and Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, probably wasn't aware of her surroundings.

In women's doubles, Date-Krumm and Parra Santonja of Spain, upset the #2 seeded blockbuster team of Hlavackova and Hradecka yesterday, 75 36 63. The Czech Republic team won a silver medal at the Olympics last summer, and were expected to make the finals in Melbourne. 

So how does a 42-year-old woman who said goodbye to the tour in 1996 with 7 WTA career titles, including 4 from the Japan Open, packed inside her court bag and a career-high ranking of #4 on her resume, make a comeback 12 years later? 

Michael Krumm, German motor-racing driver and Kimiko's husband, was the insightful culprit. He encouraged her to try it. Her first tennis career had been laced with pressure from Japan and the fact that not many Japanese players were on tour. She was crushed by her own expectations. 

She stepped back to the courts in 2008 and won the Hansol Korea Open in 2009 at 39 years old. She became the second oldest player, behind Billie Jean King, to win a WTA title.

Flash forward to Wimbledon, 2011, where she pushed 5-time women's champion Venus Williams to the edge, losing 67(6) 63 8-6. "'She departed [Centre Court] to a standing ovation after almost three hours," reported theage.com. 

"'Of course I felt tired,'" theage.com reported. "'I'm still okay, although maybe tomorrow it's a problem.'"

The semifinal women's singles match at The All England Club in 1989 also remains a memorable one. Many can recall the challenge she presented eventual champion Steffi Graf. Date had the German on the ropes, pinning her to the baseline with flat, deep groundstrokes. A rain delay changed her game, once the two women returned to Centre Court. 

Afterward Graf said that she couldn't do anything initially, but remained positive. She believed Date couldn't keep up that aggressive type of play through to an upset. 

Kimiko's style has not altered much over her lengthy career. 

She holds her forehand using a Continental grip, not a Western grip that modern tennis advocates. She doesn't make a loop with her racquet, either, in order to build speed and create spin on the ball. Instead, she relies on her flat groundstrokes and moving the ball around. 

She, we have to admit, is a brave woman on court against youngsters half her age that have learned to hit the cover smack-dab off every ball. She has had to find a balance between fitness -- a huge part of the modern game -- practice and matches. Otherwise she becomes too tired. 

Her interactions with the media are normally, and closely, followed by a giggle that reveals her youthful spirit and sparkly eyes. She seems humble and grateful, "Even when I'm losing, I'm still enjoying."

Millions of average club players could learn a valuable lesson from Kimiko, especially when we get carried away with the importance of our weekly doubles match at the neighborhood courts. 

"I never think about the playing," she said today. "Four, five years ago I never think about play the Grand Slam. So, of course, this year I won two times in the singles and then two times in doubles. Yeah, like a miracle."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013