In September 1970, the first Virginia Slims tournament was played by a small group of women protesting at inequality in pay under the slogan "You've come a long way, baby". The same month Kimiko Date – now Date-Krumm since her marriage to the German racing driver Michael Krumm – was born in Kyoto; and no player of either sex has come further.
At 42, she is by far the oldest player on the circuit and in a match stretching across the generations she handed out a lesson in shot-making and artistry to the German teenager Carina Witthöft.
It would be graceless to call it age versus beauty, but the manner of her remorseless 6-0, 6-2 victory in less than three-quarters of an hour must have cheered fortysomethings everywhere. Those Japanese supporters comprising the vast majority of the crowd on a heaving No 14 Court – hardly the ideal venue – were certainly delighted.
Few, if any, Germans were in evidence and Witthöft must have found it a lonely place, packed crowd or not. She had walked on to court to silence; her opponent, 24 years older and ranked No 4 in the world the year she reached a Wimbledon semi-final in 1996, was greeted like the heroine she is in Tokyo.
The first set lasted a mere 16 minutes and it was the ninth game of the match before Witthöft managed to win one. It was appropriate Date-Krumm should finish things off with a service game to love, wrapping up the match in just 44 minutes.
Date-Krumm retired at the end of 1996 and did not return to court – aside from a brief doubles cameo in 2002 – until 2008. She expected her return to last no more than a year. Now she is enjoying playing so much, she says: "It's difficult thinking about stopping one day."
She also had some advice for the Witthöfts of this world: "Tennis, it's more a mental sport, so they need more experience, a little bit more variation. Because now young players, they have so much power, but when the ball is coming, [they] just hit it. Bam, bam, bam. But still I'm enjoying it very much. I like the challenge because [it is] not easy for my age." It was today.Reuse content