Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unconventional and Unbelievable

At 40, Kimiko Date Krumm is proving that less can be more than enough on the WTA Tour.

She's old enough to be your mother. She's tiny enough to be your kid sister. Her anachronistic forehand is more retro than Lenny Kravitz covering Bill Withers, and at the ripe age of 40 she's playing a game that is made for lithe and limitless teenagers -- not mature and aging technicians. But none of these incongruous facts seem to hinder the engine that drives this phenom to rewrite the WTA's record books practically every time she plays a match.

She's Kimiko Date Krumm, and if you underestimate her, you might find yourself wishing you hadn't. Oh, and you're probably gonna lose, too.

Spectators in attendance at the Pan Pacific Open in tokyo in September couldn't be blamed for doing a double take when they glanced out onto to the court to see the vivacious and somewhat giant Maria Sharapova towering over Date Krumm. Sharapova is ten inches taller than Date Krumm -- and 17 years her junior -- but Date Krumm, who turned 40 last month, is undergoing a Renaissance that makes seemingly telling numbers like these fade into the distance.

She's making a lot of top players fade into the distance of late as well.

You can cook the numbers any way you like, and measure the power of each individuals stroke as well, but when a tennis match is over and the diminutive 40-year-old is celebrating another shocking yet inspiring victory, it becomes clear that there is so much more to winning in the WTA than just bombing away from the baseline.

"It's incredible," said Sharapova after that aforementioned match in Tokyo. "It just shows you how she has stayed in great shape while away from the game. She is incredibly fit."

She's incredibly smart too, and incredibly accurate. Those who wish to degrade Date Krumm's resurgence as unimpressive because she is winning solely with her legs and her defense are not doing her or the level of play on the tour any justice. While Date Krumm plays a very reactive brand of tennis, she does so in a highly aggressive manner. Just ask the seven top-20 players and two top-10 players that she's defeated over the course of 2010. The 40-year-old doesn't simply camp out on her baseline and wait for her opponents to implode -- she uses a lethal combination of redirection and angles to put her opponents on the defensive, and once she's done that she's one heck of a finisher.

It's natural to look at Date Krumm's simplistic stroke production and assume she's going to get bombed off the court by all these women with big backswings and textbook follow throughs, but you'd be very wrong to do so. What Date Krumm's game lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up for in what many other top players seem to lack -- accuracy, consistency, and a certain maddening flatness that keeps her shots low to the ground and screaming through the court.

And the fact that she's done it all with that rudimentary backswing and her very abbreviated service motion should send a message to a lot of young players out there. Big powerful swings are great, but sometimes hitting harder doesn't necessarily equate with hitting smarter.

She was one set away from becoming the oldest women to ever win a WTA title in a week where she became the oldest women to ever defeat a top-ten player. She's the real deal. And as long as she keeps showing up to play, records will keep falling like dominoes.

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