NEW YORK—Just how long has Kimiko Date-Krumm, who will turn 44 next month, been playing professional tennis? We were reminded of her longevity again on Monday afternoon, when she told an interviewer that her match against Venus Williams would mark her debut on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“In my past career,” Date-Krumm explained, citing her years on tour before her first retirement, in 1996, “it wasn’t built yet.”
She was right: Ashe was built in 1997, the same year that Date-Krumm’s opponent on Monday, Venus Williams, made her debut run to the U.S. Open final. Together Williams, 34, and Date-Krumm, 43, combined to create the oldest professional tennis match in anyone’s memory. The War of 77 (Years) didn’t look easy for either woman on this 85-degree day in Queens.
Williams began with a flurry of big shots to hold in the opening game, and earn five break points in the second game. But when Date-Krumm fought them all off and saved serve, Venus’s early energy dissipated, and her rhythm went with it. She couldn’t find her first serve, and she stopped moving her feet on her ground strokes; by the time she had lost the opening set 6-2, it looked like it was going to be one of those low-battery days that have ended so many of Williams’ Slams in recent years.
Then, as quickly as it had vanished, Williams’s rhythm returned. It started with her serve. She hit three service winners to hold in the opening game of the second set; you could tell from the sound they made in the stadium that Venus's pop had returned. Date-Krumm must have heard it and felt it as well, because suffered her first moment of shakiness in her next service game. She double-faulted to make the score 30-30, and drilled an easy backhand into the net at break point. Venus had her first lead of the day, and she would run with it, to a 6-3 second-set win and a 5-0 lead in the third.
For most of that time, Date-Krumm was reeling. If Venus looked all of her 34 years in the first set, Kimiko looked all of her 43 years for most of the next two. To make up for her age and height—she’s 5’4”—Date-Krumm sacrifices all margin. She takes the ball on the rise and hits flat, sharp angles. They’re great when they're working, but it doesn’t take much for them to misfire, and misfire they did today. Date-Krumm finished with more winners than Venus, 19 to 17, but the same number of errors, 36. “No one else plays like Kimiko on tour,” Venus said afterward. There’s a reason for that: It’s hard to do what she does.
Date-Krumm did rally from 0-5 to 3-5, before losing 2-6, 6-3, 6-3; only the last two games featured the type of exciting, all-court rallies that typically characterize their matches. Maybe Date-Krumm spent too much energy dodging a determined bee that stalked her through the better part of three games. By the middle of the third set, the bee was dead at the hands of a ball boy, but Vee lives to fight another day.
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