Time, it is said, waits for no one. But there are a few people who look to make time wait for them, forcing the world to catch glimpses of their untrammelled continuity and adding distinctiveness to their appeal that somehow eluded the curious eyes the first time round.
Kimiko Date-Krumm is one of those few people. At the age of 43, she has not only paused time, but has also managed to dictate terms to it. She makes it appear effortless too, with her game looking as if it was never away from mainstream tennis, putting younger girls with their stronger legs to shame.
The how does she do it part will perhaps remain a mystery forever. Almost as mysterious as the country from which she hails. The country that gave the world sushi and sake just as it offered the values of courtesy, hard-work and efficiency, outlining them as an individual’s greatest assets.
Having interacted with several Japanese people, I have observed that they don’t like to talk much. It’s not arrogance, but more to do with ensuring that the person at the other end isn’t unnecessarily disturbed, just as it’s about them getting on with their purpose without much ado. Yes, the Japanese are unfailingly polite, but that’s not all that they are – when it comes to maintaining focus and intensity, they have no equal.
Professionally, Date-Krumm quite deeply embodies these underlying qualities, making it at least to the second round in nearly every tournament that she participates in, despite her age. Her results today may not be anywhere near her personal bests from the 90s, which she achieved prior to her first retirement. But then again, her achievements in her second sojourn into tennis-dom are of the milestone variety that are sure to leave behind far deeper after-effects.
Her successes – as are her losses – are all about worthwhile experiences. It’s not about comparisons with other players like, say, Serena Williams, but about the memories that she creates with respect to the diversity of her playing legacy.
At the Australian Open, she had over two dozen years on her 16-year old opponent, Swiss Belinda Bencic, who had not even been born when Date-Krumm was playing tennis professionally in the early and mid-90s. To play against a player who was a part of the era of Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Gabriela Sabatini isn’t something you can do everyday. And it was that experience that put Bencic on the back-foot frequently throughout the match, even though she prevailed over the Japanese in the end.
Date-Krumm’s incredible speed around the court and her ability to take the ball on the rise and redirect it with flat strokes have allowed her to continue her run in 2014 on an upbeat note without being relegated to the sidelines, even as her ranking struggles to maintain its place in the top-100.
At the ongoing Abierto Monterrey Open in Mexico, she’s made it to the semi-finals. Her biggest scalp of the event was top seed Flavia Penneta, who she defeated in straight sets 7-5, 6-2 in the first round. The import of the stunning upset was further emphasised by the fact that the Italian had been on a fine run of form, seeking to break into the top five rankings by riding on the back of her victory at Indian Wells just a few weeks ago.
This may be enough for Date-Krumm to keep her place in the top 100 for now. But one does wonder about how long Date-Krumm can keep stave off the looming precariousness in her ranking and game. She’s got the passion and the experience, as she does the age-defying brilliance about her. But does she have time at her disposal to keep doing what she’s been able to do till now?
After all, while at the moment time looks far away from catching up to Date-Krumm, it will eventually catch up. These precious moments should therefore be treasured, for despite her seemingly endless resilience, paused time hovers in the shadows waiting, as if to begin ticking once again, making all of this only fleeting. In that regard, Date-Krumm is no exception to the cruel rules of time, despite the unabated spirit and love for the game that are etched into every inch of her frame.
Savour it while it lasts, because there will never be another ageless wonder like Kimiko Date-Krumm.Published 05 Apr 2014, 20:59 IST