Only a few players on the WTA Tour have earned the right to have their names mentioned in the same sentence with the great Billie Jean King either in terms of number of titles won like Martina Navratilova or Serena Williams who, with her Wimbledon title this year, passed King’s own 13 Grand Slam singles title record. So it was probably appropriate or just fortuitous that a few days after the 40th anniversary of the “original nine” who started the first ever professional women’s tennis tour, Kimiko Date Krumm, herself only two days shy of her own 40th birthday, allowed herself the rare opportunity to once again be mentioned in the same breath as King.
And it’s not the first time.
With her 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 first round defeat of defending champion Maria Sharapova at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Date Krumm continues to defy the odds and inspire many with her performances on the court. Although her win over Sharapova hasn’t set any sort of record (yet), it was interesting, at least to me, that the WTA tour site lists Date Krumm’s accomplishments of being the second oldest player to win a Tour title in Seoul last year, the oldest player ever to beat a top 10 player when she defeated Dinara Safina at Roland Garros this year and the oldest player to be ranked in the top 50 since King did it at age 40 back in 1984 as “awards”. Date Krumm certainly earned them, but since each ties her name to King, it makes them even more special.
In the last year, Date Krumm has become one of those “uh-oh” opponents no one wants to see as a first or second round opponent. A tenacious fighter who loves to hug the baseline, Date Krumm forces players to overpower her or disrupt her game rather than rely on the veteran to blink first. Though some reports suggested Sharapova felt ill during the match, the Russian gave high praise for her opponent by saying, “It’s incredible. It just shows you how she has stayed in such great shape while away from the game. She is incredibly fit.” Date Krumm herself said after the match, “”To play against a former World No. 1 and defending champion, I knew I had to play to the best of my ability.”
If Date Krumm, who now faces Daniela Hantuchova, in the next round can win her country’s tournament is probably a long shot. But what Date Krumm brings to the game and those who watch it is something bigger than results on a draw sheet and rankings points earned. She’s proving to many that tennis is not always about winning the big events, but instead about playing for the joy of competition along with proving that age is just a number especially in a world where age is often the first thing that many choose to define a woman for, rather than her accomplishments.
Billie Jean King encourages every player who is close enough to break one of her many records to “go for it”. If Date Krumm manages to keep playing for another year or two, she well find herself spoken of in the same breath again as King regarding her longevity on the tour. But at least for this week where we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the birth of the women’s tour, Date Krumm earned her right to add her own piece of history to such a special occasion.