Tennis

Venus, Date-Krumm star on Centre Court

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

As the rain poured down outside, Venus Williams and the amazing 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm served up the best match yet to be played under the Centre Court roof at Wimbledon on a wet Wednesday, and after 2 hours and 55 minutes of frequently brilliant tennis, Williams emerged victorious 6-7, 6-3, 8-6.

The crowd of 15,000, happy to be dry when so many others with only grounds passes were getting wet, was stunned by the way the first set unfolded as the Japanese player raced to a 5-1 lead. Then Venus started to find a way to counter her speedy opponent who hit the ball flat and kept charging in to score with pinpoint volleys.

If one word summed up Date-Krumm's game in the opening stages it was 'accuracy.' Time after time she hit the line or found the small space Williams had left for her.

2011 US Open

2011 US Open

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"It took me a while to adjust in the first set," said Venus. "She hits every ball basically on the baseline, hard and flat. If you get it anywhere near midcourt, she hits for the corners and comes to the net. I thought she played unbelievable today. I thought she had some luck on her side, too. But I was very serious about trying to win, even at 1-5 down in the first set. Even down, was it 2-6 in the tie break, I was still trying to win that set."

Venus did save four set points from 2-6, but her determined opponent refused to be thrown by wasted opportunities and scored by hitting another line with a forehand — her 27th winner of the set — and then watching Venus put a backhand into the net.

Slowly, Venus started finding some rhythm on her serve and began to penetrate with her big forehand. But even when she broke for a 2-0 lead in the third set, it was not over.

Date-Krumm, who left the game in 1996 for 12 years to become a housewife and occasional commentator, gave a glimpse of what she might have been achieving in the intervening years by breaking back with some beautiful touch volleys and passing shots. She only started to show the first signs of fatigue at the end when a couple of mistakes enabled Venus to grab a very hard-earned victory.

"I thought my movement was really good and I was competing well," Venus added. "Because, let me tell you, she was really competing well. On big points she was hitting all kind of shots on the line. So when you play an opponent like that, you just have to get into that competitive mode and compete, whatever happens."

Date-Krumm was happy to have played under the roof despite her disappointment at losing. "I played here in the semifinal against Steffi Graf in 1996 in two days because of darkness," she recalled. "Then, after 15 years I come back on Centre Court with roof. Was very, very happy — even though I lose!"

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At 40, Kimiko should be an inspiration to all middle-aged players. Already the second-oldest player to reach the second round at Wimbledon after Martina Navratilova (who was 47 when she won a round in 2004), Date-Krumm admitted she has to take special care of herself to play at this level.

"It's very difficult," she said. "If I do too much, practice too much, I feel tired. At Grand Slams, if I play doubles, we play almost every day. So I am always thinking to recover the body. This is most difficult for my age. I have to do weight training because at 40 it is easy to lose the muscle. Not try to get big muscle; just try not to lose muscle!"

She had enough muscle and more than enough skill to keep Venus thoroughly occupied for a long time. And the American was grateful for that.

"I've had a ton of extra time to be in the gym in the last five months," Williams said. "So it's been too much gym time. I needed that win and I'm glad it worked out for me."

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