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Compiled by MARY HANNIGAN
Date-Krumm still makes a racket at her age
While Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm flew the flag for female ‘senior citizens’ the world over at the Australian Open this week, the 42-year-old becoming the oldest woman to reach the fourth round of a major tournament since Renee Richards (45) in 1979, it was generally the sport’s teens who captured the early headlines in Melbourne.
In all, 11 players yet to hit the rusty old 20 mark made it through to the second round of the grand slam, eight more than achieved the feat in last year’s tournament, all of which left some of the game’s elder stateswomen feeling decidedly long in the tooth. “Twenty-two, it’ll be old in the tennis world soon,” said Caroline Wozniacki after she beat 16-year-old Donna Vekic of Croatia.
Wozniacki should spare a thought for Date-Krumm – she initially retired from the game in 1996 . . . the year Vekic was born. She returned in 2008, becoming the second oldest woman to win a WTA Tour title – Billie Jean King (39) still holding that record.
It’s 21 years since her best performance in a grand slam, when she reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, 18 years since she reached her highest world ranking of four, facts that most probably leaves her teenage colleagues in the ‘locker-room’ gobsmacked.
“Everybody says to me, ‘you are crazy’,” she said this week, “but they support me a lot”. Only three of the 11 teenagers, though, made it to the third round of the tournament – 17-year-old Madison Keys (USA), 18-year-old Laura Robson (Britain) and 19-year-old Sloane Stephens (USA) – so the ‘golden oldies’ put most of them in their place.
And Date-Krumm reckons that the days when so many teenagers were winning grand slams – Martina Hingis and Monica Seles at 16 and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova at 17 – might just be on hold, the focus now, she says, on strength and power, best demonstrated by Williams and Sharapova. Older players with more developed bodies have, then, she says, the advantage.
“That’s why women’s tennis is changing compared to 10 years ago, 20 years ago. It’s more powerful,” she said. “Every time when I go to the gym, everybody is there, even before the match, after the match, everybody there. They’re doing so much exercise.” There are, too, greater restrictions on younger teenagers playing in professional tournaments than there were a few years back, which is slowing up their progress when they move from the junior to senior ranks, but a necessary development after so many high profile ‘burn-outs’, not least the one suffered by Jennifer Capriati.