It was as though she had stepped out of 1996. Or emerged from a dream.
Yes, there was none other than Kimiko Date on Court 2, trading blows with a girl who wasn’t even born when Kimiko first graced Wimbledon in 1989. Honest, that was “Kid Butterfly,” the slight, quick Japanese whose shotmaking could be as sweet as a Puccini aria.
She had been a Top Ten inhabitant in 1994-95-96, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1996 where she almost beat the champ, Steffi Graf, in 3 sets. But that was enough. Too much pressure, and traveling, she said after her first rounder as a returnee to the Big W.
Yet, as 38-year-old Madame Kimiko Date Crum, she was back again to show the kids – namely No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki – how the game could be played on the lawn. Keep the ball low with slices, and make the big bangers dig for it. Get to the net, chipping-and-charging, to set up volleys.
For more than an enchanting hour, Kimiko, ranked No. 143, riding the gift of a wild card, had the high-talented Dane, Wozniacki, baffled – and trailing, 7-5, 3-1. “Then I felt tired, and a little cramp” she said, and her foe, recognizing real danger threw herself into it all out. Caroline, ndearly 19, ran 6 games and permitted Kimiko only one more, to win, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.
“Her game is different from what I’m used to,” Wozniacki said.
It’s an heirloom of spins and angles played by few, outstandingly by 36-year-old Fabrice Santoro, who beat Nico Kiefer, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Kimiko and Fabrice “use the head,” as she put it. “Today women’s tennis is everybody more taller, more powerful, more speedy. I don’t have not so much power, and not tall, I must use my head,” said the mite of 5-foot-4 and 114 pounds.
“It’s amazing that she has come back and still playing at this level. I’m impressed,” said Wozniacki. “She’s the oldest player I’ve ever played.”
But why is she doing it? Her husband, prominent German racing car driver Michael Crumm, persuaded he to resume her career. “He wanted to see me play. He enjoys it, and so do I. Much more enjoyable now, traveling with him. No pressure. Nothing to lose, he tells me.”
Everything to gain for those who watch her. I was wowed by her those many years ago, and was glad to see her again, skipping out of 1996, showing us something old that seemed new. Can’t wait until the next time. Maybe the U.S. Open?