The last time Kimiko Date-Krumm made the third round of the Australian Open, the two youngest players in the 2013 draw, Madison Keys and Donna Vekic, weren’t alive. Yet here she is, 23 years after competing in her first Australian Open, into the third round for the first time since 1995 after beating Shahar Peer 6-2, 7-5.
Ranked No. 100 at the start of the tournament and projected to climb into the top 80, the 42-year-old made history in the first round when she became the oldest player to win a match at the Australian Open (ousting No. 12 Nadia Petrova). Now Date-Krumm’s the oldest player to reach the third round of any Grand Slam tournament since Renee Richards did so as a 45-year-old at the 1979 U.S. Open.
An Australian Open semifinalist in 1994, Date-Krumm’s inspiring run offered the counterpoint to a first week dominated by teen prodigies. How many more Australian Opens does the Ageless Wonder have in her?
“Five more,” she said, laughing. “But not easy. Not easy. I need [a] new body.”
The one she has seems to be doing all right. Date-Krumm, 5-foot-4, wields her heavy Yonex like a paddle. She forgoes the loopy takebacks and spins that are the brushstrokes of modern tennis, but instead employs a flat style off the ground, relying on her ability to redirect her opponent’s power. It is an economical, almost metronomic style that can take the new generation off guard.
Her technique may be unique, but it’s her ability to match the physicality of the modern game that impresses. The game has changed dramatically since her heyday alongside Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini and Lindsay Davenport. Then the game was more about technique. Now it’s about speed and power.
“Every time when I go gym, everybody’s there, even before the match, after the match, everybody’s there,” Date-Krumm said. “They’re doing so much exercise. That’s why women’s tennis is changing compared to 10 years ago, 20 years ago. It’s more powerful.
“So, yeah, before Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, they have much more technique. But now it’s more speedy and more powerful. It’s [the biggest] change.”
Everyone wants Date-Krumm to map the location of the Fountain of Youth, but she said it’s not that complicated.
“For me nothing special,” she said. “Just focus on the match. Just use the energy for the tennis, and that’s it. Sleep a lot. Drink water a lot. It’s nothing special. Just simple, yeah.”
Simple or not, she’s left her retired peers in awe.
“When I see Steffi [who beat Date-Krumm in the 1994 semis], of course, she say to me, You should stop now and make the baby,” she said, laughing. “Everybody says to me, You are crazy. First word is always, You are crazy. But they support me a lot.”