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Date-Krumm: Japan's forever young talent

Japanese star may be the oldest female in the draw but her win against an opponent 24 years her junior was impressive.

Last Modified: 25 Jun 2013 16:23
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Date-Krumm continues the trend in women’s tennis of success at an older age [GETTY]

Sportsmen and women are known to be indecisive over retirement. Michael Schumacher, Lance Armstrong (the less said on that the better), Kim Clijsters, David Haye and Justine Henin have all hung up their sports gear to only go and change their mind. 

However, it is rare for stars to return to their beloved sport after a 12-year break – primarily because most would be too old to compete.

It is likely this was something that never crossed the mind of ageless Japanese player Kimiko Date-Krumm – who returned to tennis in 2008 at the age of 38.

On Tuesday, the Japanese world number 84 thrashed 18-year-old Carina Witthoeft 6-0, 6-2 in round one of Wimbledon.

The ease of the victory all the more impressive considering she is now 42. In tennis years, that’s ancient.

Date-Krumm might be the oldest female in the draw but her performance against an opponent 24 years her junior gave nothing away. The Japanese player, who looks hardly a day over 30, was in top form on Court 14 – where she became one of the first players through to round two on day two. 

Those who filled her press conference were clearly not just there to talk tennis – rather, to discover the secret of eternal youth.    

So how could she help us mere mortals?

"I eat a lot, a lot. More than my husband (racing driver Michael Krumm) and my coach – but of course I eat healthy food," she said.

‘Is green tea her secret?’ one journalist asked.

"Oh no!," she giggled, rummaging around in her bag before pulling out a magic teapot.

"I drink Chinese tea, sometimes Japanese tea. I take this around the park, but not on court because it gets too hot."

Chinese tea – not green tea – take note.

Old dog, new tricks

Success at an older age is now a common theme in tennis. Gone are the days when young kids like Martina Hingis and Steffi Graf burst onto the scene to win grand slams.

These days it takes experience and wisdom, as Serena Williams proved when she became the oldest female player to hold the top ranking at 31. Sixth-ranked Chinese star Li Na is also 31, and on the men’s side Roger Federer is showing age does not have to be a barrier.

Women's tennis is more speedy and powerful but everyone does fitness training… tennis is more mental. We need experience that’s why it’s not just young people going to the top level

Kimiko Date-Krumm,

"Women’s tennis is more speedy and powerful but everyone does fitness training… It is not only about power and speed, tennis is more mental. We need experience that’s why it’s not just young people going to the top level," says Date-Krumm.

Speaking about her past, she also hit on another reason why young players might struggle.  

"When I was young I practiced all the time, I needed to win. There was pressure to be in the top 10 -  I didn’t enjoy it as much when I was young. Now I’ve come back I enjoy it very much, even losing. I like a challenge - it is not easy because of my age."

You could say that again.

Mental stability and a lack of pressure could go a long way to explain why we are seeing more elders winning the top gongs.

So why did Date-Krumm return?

"At 25 I stopped tennis for 12 years. I enjoyed my life, I married a German and I never missed tennis. But I loved sport. I worked as a TV commentator and watching from the outside made me think how beautiful tennis is – my mind started changing."

The inspirational figures in Date-Krumm’s life hail from her husband’s world, the world of motorsport. This is hardly surprising considering the physicality involved and the presence of older figures.

"I am encouraged by people like Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa – he is the same generation – he gives me advice if I am injured. He understands how difficult recovery is – and recommended a machine to use.  My husband is also my role model – he tries very hard in racing and pushes me very hard."

One can imagine that a second round exit will not be enough to impress Michael Krumm. Kimiko had better drink plenty of Chinese tea before meeting her next spring chicken. 

Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website and reporting from the Wimbledon Championships. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News and LBC Radio.

Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, http://mythoughtonsport.blogspot.com/

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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