Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm has no plans to quit tennis at the ripe old age of 43 but told AFP she would have to be cryogenically frozen to carry on for too much longer.
The former world number four joked that going into a deep freeze like spoof spy Austin Powers and being defrosted in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would appeal to her as she battles minor injuries in the run-up to the French Open.
“If I’d just have to sleep and then when I wake up it’s like it’s yesterday, that might work,” Date-Krumm said in an interview ahead of a workout at a Tokyo gym. “I’m not getting any younger.”
“I did this in Mexico, this in Malaysia and this in Korea,” she adds, pointing to various minor niggles on both legs. “It gets harder with age.”
But the evergreen Date-Krumm, who reached her career-high ranking in 1995, ruled out retirement, for now, even if she confessed to doubts sometimes creeping in as to how long she can continue.
“Next year? That’s still a long way away,” said the world number 84, bursting into a laugh. “I have thought at times that enough is enough and wrestled with the idea (of quitting), but I’ve managed to overcome those feelings so far.
“I don’t have any problem with people mentioning my age. Of course my recovery time after matches is slower and I feel the fatigue more the next day. On the way back to the hotel, you feel sore and sometimes the ice baths don’t work.”
– ‘Few wrinkles’ –
Dressed in a designer blouse, blue jeans and heels, Date-Krumm is brutally honest about the future.
“When I came back at 37 I was way stronger than I am now,” said the Kyoto native, who walked away from tennis in 1996, the year she suffered a controversial defeat by Steffi Graf in the Wimbledon semi-finals. “But I’m not thinking about stopping yet.”
There have been fairytale moments since Date-Krumm’s return to the sport in 2008.
In 2009 she became the second-oldest player in the modern era to win a WTA singles title after Billie Jean King when she claimed the Korea Open, and last year reached the third round at Wimbledon, the oldest woman to do so.
“There’s no special secret,” said Date-Krumm. “Tennis has become more scientific since the 90s. Strengthening core and back muscles helps maximise my power.”
However, the appliance of science can only do so much.
“If the Tokyo Olympics were in 2016, my motivation would be right up there,” said the eight-times tour singles champion. “It might be possible.”
When talk turns to her gut-wrenching Wimbledon loss to Graf, when the German’s protests about bad light led to play being suspended with Date-Krumm clearly on top, the Japanese gave a polite shrug.
“I could see the ball and wanted to keep playing, and maybe I could have won. But it was fate,” she said before once more breaking into laughter. “What strikes me more than anything when I see re-runs on TV is how few wrinkles I had back then.”