London: Martina Navratilova wonders why Kimiko Date-Krumm ever retired so early when she is now so clearly revelling in her comeback at the ripe old age of 42. "All the other players are shaking in their knees because they don't want to lose to grandma," Navratilova said of the diminutive Japanese who on Wednesday became the oldest woman to reach the third round of the singles at Wimbledon.
"The players went through that with me. Even in doubles they didn't want to lose to a 40-something," Navratilova, who at 47 became the oldest player ever to win a grand slam match, told Reuters on Thursday. Date-Krumm quit at the end of 1996 but after a 12-year gap in which she met and married German racing car driver Michael Krumm, she returned to the sport. She is clearly overjoyed at just playing.
"When she retired, I thought she retired much too soon - and this proved it," said Navratilova. "She is fresh mentally and physically. She is not a 30-year-old but she certainly isn't like a 42-year-old." Navratilova was full of admiration for the elegance of Date-Krumm's serve and volley game. "It's a dying art and it's really hard to do it well," the nine-times Wimbledon champion said.
In January, Date-Krumm turned back the clock to become the oldest woman to win at the Australian Open. In Paris, she only won two games at the French Open against Australian Sam Stosur but still punched the air in joyous celebration.
"When I came back, I was enjoying it very much, even when I was losing," Date-Krumm has said of her fairytale progress. "I thought how beautiful tennis is as a sport." She has stopped piling the pressure on herself. Watching her is fun because her enthusiasm is so infectious. "We need experience. That's why it's not anymore only younger players who can get to the top level," Date-Krumm added.
But her fairytale could come to an abrupt halt as her next opponent in the third round is world number one and reigning Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. Navratilova was realistic about Date-Krumm's chances, saying: "Anybody against Serena doesn't have much chance these days. But she can bother her." Who knows what might happen if Date-Krumm rediscovers the golden touch that in her heyday saw her push Germany's Steffi Graf to three tight sets in the 1996 semi-final.
"If she plays like she did against Steffi Graf in that semi-final, she can beat anybody. But she is 17 years older now," Navratilova added.