James Lawton: Agonising outcome leaves Date-Krumm to ponder her lost years

She nearly turned back the clock in a scarcely believable fashion. It might have happened if she had put away an inviting smash in the deciding set

Who said that women cannot play tennis – or at least not in that way that can make you feel as involved and as absorbed as if you are at ringside for a great feat of pugilism?

Whoever they are they should seek some cover in the wake of the match that invaded the Centre Court here yesterday so brilliantly, so unforgettably that for 24 hours at least even men of the stature and achievement of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had to be content with a place in the the margins of SW19.

The fact is that for nearly three hours they were usurped utterly by Venus Williams, five times Wimbledon champion, and her opponent Kimiko Date-Krumm, who even in second-round defeat made a case to be regarded as one of the most remarkable women ever to perform in a Grand Slam tournament.

Date-Krumm is 40 years and nine months old – almost a decade older than the superstar she pushed to the limits of a talent that has gathered in nine major titles since she emerged so remarkably with her sister Serena from one of the toughest quarters of Los Angeles. Yet it was not merely the age of Date-Krumm, who grew up on the sacred ground of Japan's shrine-like city Kyoto, that seemed so remarkable as she pushed Williams so hard for her 6-7, 6-3, 8-6 victory.

It was the haunting sense of what she might have achieved if she had not quit the game in 1996 for 12 years after rising to No 4 in the world rankings – a farewell that came just after she lost to the great Steffi Graf in a Wimbledon semi-final that stretched over two days because of early darkness.

Date-Krumm was also in search of some light for herself in those days. She was unhappy on the tour, a rare Asian player struggling to deal with a strange new culture and when she married German motor racer Michael Krumm, she decided to opt for family life.

Unfortunately, the anticipated babies didn't arrive and three years ago, with the prompting of her husband, she decided to return to the theatre in which she had shown so much promise – despite being persuaded as a child, for cultural reasons, to abandon her natural instinct to be a left-hander.

Yesterday she was stunningly close to turning back the clock in a scarcely believable fashion.

Perhaps it might have happened if, among all the audacity of her game, the brilliant ground strokes along the line and the nerveless pursuit of opportunities at the net, she had put away an inviting smash when she held break point early in the deciding set. Maybe she might have truly believed that she could envelop all that lost time, and nagging regrets, with a triumph that would never be forgotten by anyone who saw it.

As it was, though, she had to settle for the huge ovation from the Centre Court which had just seen, by a huge margin, the game of the tournament – and a deep-running tribute from a Williams who had been shocked to lose the first set tie-break after fighting back from a 5-1 deficit with the help of 120mph serves of growing accuracy.

"I thought she played unbelievable today," said Williams. "Yeah, she runs down every ball. She hits every ball basically on the baseline hard and flat. If you get it anywhere near the mid-court she hits it for the corners and comes to the net. I played a very tough opponent today – she doesn't play anywhere near her age."

Date-Krumm talked wistfully of the fight for fitness demanded by her years – "Maybe I have a little stamina now, but I have to do a lot of sprinting. I have to try to keep up. I don't know how long I will go on playing but I'm very pleased that I have had a day like today. Of course, very disappointed because there were times when I thought I could win but I'm glad I was able to make a fight with a champion like Venus. She's a great player, such a champion here, and yes, of course, I'm proud that I could make such a fight with her."

In the first round she beat Britain's Katie O'Brien 6-0, 7-5 but long before the end of yesterday's affair that had seemed nothing so much as a mere limbering-up exercise. She invaded the aura of Williams quite ferociously and even more impressive was the way she absorbed the strength of her victim's recovery, then pushed so hard again to carry the first set. It was the same in the third, when Williams had reason to believe her venerable opponent had gone beyond her limits. In fact for some it seemed that one of the great Wimbledon shocks was being refashioned when she took the score to 6-6, again with the help of shots of brilliant invention and force.

At the finish, though, she was obliged to acknowledge the depth of her opponent's drive to survive, even to the point of suggesting that Williams' elaborate, and frequently aborted service toss-up, was just another device to steal an edge. "She's a great player, very clever, very smart. For example when she tossed up the serve she was always watching where I moved, to backhand or forehand. So she's very clever. Mentally, also, she is very strong. On the key points, she just never made a mistake."

If Date-Krumm made any mistakes, she was not about to dwell upon them. She advised all young players to follow the sweet style of players like Martina Navratilova and Graf, her own idols, because it was in such a style that you discovered the beauty of the game and the deepest enthusiasm for it.

No, she couldn't say when she would finally walk away from the game she put down for so long. But she thought that maybe she could go on a little longer – if she could still make the kind of fight she had produced today. Of course, there was only one mistake she couldn't avoid. It was the one of growing old. However, no one seemed to notice at Centre Court yesterday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches