Kimiko Date-Krumm is one of the few women still on the tour that Serena Williams remembers watching when she grew up.
On Saturday, 17 years after Date-Krumm reached the semifinals at Wimbledon and 11 years after Williams won her maiden title there, the two finally play each other for the first time.
The 42-year-old Japanese star on Thursday became the oldest woman to reach the third round at the All England Club since the Open era started in 1968 by beating Alexandra Cadantu of Romania 6-4, 7-5. Her reward: a match against Williams, the defending champion and five-time winner.
”I watched her play when I was super young, growing up,” said the 31-year-old Williams, a veteran in her own right who now plays one of those rare matches in which she faces someone far older than she is.
The American beat 19-year-old Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-2 to extend her winning streak to 33 matches. To win a 34th straight, she expects to have to get through a lot of long rallies against an opponent more than twice the age of the one she just defeated.
”Doesn’t matter how hard you hit it, she sees the ball and gets it back,” Williams said. ”She has great hands, a wonderful great volley, comes to net a lot, which on grass can be tricky. And she plays really flat too, so the ball stays really low.”
Date-Krumm broke a record held by Virginia Wade, who reached the third round in 1985 at 39. According to the WTA, she is now the second-oldest woman to reach the third round of any Grand Slam in the Open era, after Renee Richards at the 1979 U.S. Open.
”I’m very happy to be in the third round, especially since I love Wimbledon and have many good memories here,” Date-Krumm said. ”I think it’s amazing. I cannot believe it. But this year I skipped a lot of the clay court season so I could focus on the grass. And luckily this year I didn’t play a seeded player in the first round because most of the time I did. It’s working. I’m very happy.”
Date-Krumm is also 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.
She took a 12-year break from tennis before returning in 2008. The last time she advanced to the third round at Wimbledon was in 1996, when she lost in the semifinals to Steffi Graf.
Date-Krumm still has vivid memories of that match, when she won the second set before the match was halted overnight because of a previous rain delay.
”And then the next day when I’m on the court, Steffi came back to normal and then she was so strong I had no chance,” she said.
Against Williams, Date-Krumm hopes her legs won’t let her down.
”I need to try, just try my best,” she said. ”I hope I can stay more than one hour, one hour half. Try my best. She’s so strong. It’s very difficult to beat her”
Date-Krumm made her Wimbledon debut in 1989, when 59 of the 128 players in this year’s main draw had not yet been born.
”I have so much respect for her,” said Williams, who herself became the third-oldest woman in the Open era to win a Grand Slam tournament when she captured this year’s French Open. ”I think she’s so inspiring to be playing such high level tennis at her age. And she’s a real danger on the grass court, I know that. I definitely will have to be ready.”
Earlier this week, Date-Krumm said she was unimpressed by the way tennis had evolved since she started, criticizing players who relied too much on power. She thinks Williams is a formidable player, though.
”She’s so strong. It’s very, very difficult to beat her,” Date-Krumm said. ”I played with Venus here two years ago, and this year in Miami. But, of course, there’s a big difference between Venus and Serena. Serena has more power and more speed. She has more confidence. She has more everything. I just need to try my best on the court and we’ll see.”