LONDON — Playing an opponent less than half her age, veteran Japanese player Kimiko Date-Krumm needed just 44 minutes to defeat German teenager Carina Witthoeft 6-0, 6-2 in the first round of Wimbledon on Tuesday.
The 42-year-old Date-Krumm is the second-oldest player to have won a match at Wimbledon after Martina Navratilova, who was 47 when she reached the second round in 2004.
The 18-year-old Witthoeft was making her Grand Slam debut, while Date-Krumm’s first appearance in a major tournament dates back to the 1989 French Open. Date-Krumm reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1996, a few months after Witthoeft celebrated her first birthday.
“I have a lot of passion,” Date-Krumm said when asked why she was still playing. “I like challenges, because it’s not easy for my age.”
Date-Krumm took a 12-year break from tennis before returning in 2008. She said tennis has changed a lot since she started and not always for the better.
“The young players have so much power,” she said. “But when the ball is coming, they just hit it. They don’t use the whole court. Navratilova, for example, was doing the serve and volley, she was a lefty and was using the backhand slice.
“Steffi Graf had a special backhand slice and a big forehand. (Gabriela) Sabatini used serve and volley even though she liked to stay on the baseline. … Everybody had a different style. They used many (different) shots. Now, everybody looks the same. Bam, Bam, Bam.”
After she retired in 1996, the Japanese veteran never thought she would stage a comeback. She worked on TV before returning to the sport with a different mindset.
“When I was young, I always practiced, trained, I needed to win, I wanted to be in the top 10,” said Date-Krumm, whose career-best ranking was No. 4 in 1995. “I always had the pressure. So I didn’t enjoy so much when I was young. And since I came back, I’m enjoying very much, even when I’m losing.”
Date-Krumm can still move fast enough on a tennis court, but she needs to adapt her diet and training to make sure she can weather the power and aggression of her younger rivals.
“I’m more taking care of my body, because of course the most difficult is to recover,” she said. “Of course, I need more training, fitness training. But if I do too much, I always feel tired.”
Date-Krumm, who is married to German race car driver Michael Krumm, lost in the third round at the Australian Open this year and lost her opening match at the French Open and at Birmingham in her warm-up tournament before Wimbledon.
But experience and age prevailed on Tuesday. Witthoeft struggled with her first serve and was broken six times on Court 14.
“I was surprised by the way she played, you can tell she is very experienced,” Witthoeft said. “I did not think she would be able to play so well, because she is so old.”