Age doesn't slow Kimiko Date-Krumm
MELBOURNE, Australia -- At 42, Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm encounters some situations unique to her age -- such as playing kids whose mothers are younger than she is. Asked to recall her last Australian Open win, she furrowed her brow in a senior moment. "1996," she said, but couldn't summon up the name of her opponent. (For the record, it was Mexican player Angelica Gavaldon.)
Her first-round opponent Tuesday was more recognizable -- 12-seed Nadia Petrova of Russia. The two played twice in 2010, and world No. 100 Date-Krumm beat the frequent top-20 fixture in three sets in Sydney, which might have provided a hint that she'd be competitive. There was no predicting this one-sided result, however -- a 6-2, 6-0 dismantling that took 64 minutes.
Date-Krumm, who returned to the sport in 2009 after a 12-year absence, has grown used to the questions about how she survives and sometimes prospers on the grinding circuit.
"I eat a lot; I sleep a lot," she said after surpassing the previous record for an oldest winner at this tournament, set by then-40-year-old Virginia Wade of Great Britain in 1985. "Last night I was in the bed before 10. I finished the dinner already 7:30. Sleep before 10 like the kids. Because always after the match or after the practice I'm tired, so I need time to recover a lot. It's [a] simple life. That's it. Nothing special."
Petrova, who swatted 38 unforced errors to just nine winners, offered no excuses, saying Date-Krumm's consistency and ability to play off Petrova's own power was a potent combination. "Sometimes when I hit the ball, it feels like it comes back harder," she said.
Sloane Stephens has her mantra -- "In calmness, in confidence" -- printed on her socks. It's not visible on court, but her feet know it's there.
The 19-year-old Floridian actually doesn't act as if she needs that reminder. Seeded (29th) for the first time at a major, Stephens said seeing her name in bold type in the draw felt matter-of-fact, an even-keeled attitude that will serve her well as she continues to build her résumé. On Tuesday, she brushed off a sloppy warm-up in windy conditions and dispatched Simona Halep of Romania 6-1, 6-1 in a brisk 47 minutes. It was her sixth win of the young season, in which she already has reached quarterfinals in Hobart and Brisbane and appears to be picking up the thread from her breakthrough 2012 campaign, even after after a lengthy post-U.S. Open layoff.
"I did nothing for seven weeks," Stephens said. "I was hanging out with friends, going to football games and basketball games, and doing what normal people do." She gained 15 pounds over the break: "I wasn't posting any pictures on Twitter," she said, but recommitted herself to fitness and said she's regaining her touch in the Southern Hemisphere.
"I was a little bit worried the first couple of days [in Brisbane], but I played well in the first round, played well in the second round, played well against Serena [in the quarterfinals], too, but I was still trying to find anything like serving, points, getting it together in my head," said Stephens, who lost to Williams 6-4, 6-3 there. "It takes time to readjust to what you missed."
The lone upset pulled off by an American woman Tuesday belonged to No. 63 Jamie Hampton, who took out 31st-seeded Urszula Radwanska decisively, 6-2, 6-4. Hampton, who's at a career high in the rankings, credited her 10 weeks of grueling offseason workouts with a big revolving cast of international pros and juniors at the U.S. Tennis Association's training center in Boca Raton, Fla., for her increased stamina and confidence.
"I grew a lot as a person," said Hampton, 23, who charged all the way to the semis in Auckland earlier this month before falling to the other, better-known Radwanska sister, Agnieszka, the No. 4 seed here. Hampton described three-a-day fitness sessions and practice sets that forced her to compete and focus when fatigued -- a key element of surviving in the WTA. "Whether I'm tired or not, I want to win," the Alabama native said.
The 21-seed, Varvara Lepchenko, is another U.S. woman looking to keep last season's momentum going. She won a main-draw match in Melbourne for the first time in five tries, conquering what she said are habitual early-season jitters to top Polona Hercog of Slovakia handily, 6-4, 6-1.
Lepchenko's run to the fourth round at Roland Garros last year helped her secure a slot on the U.S. Olympic team, a huge goal for the Uzbekistan-born naturalized U.S. citizen. The 26-year-old, who lives and trains in Queens, N.Y., also reached the third round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and played an exceptionally demanding season as she climbed the ladder.
"This year, I'm trying to be a little bit smarter with my schedule," said Lepchenko, who said she felt worn down at the end of last season and at one juncture thought she might have mononucleosis. (She didn't.)
Three other young American women didn't fare as well. Melanie Oudin fell to Great Britain's rising star Laura Robson 6-2, 6-3. Christina McHale lost 6-1, 6-7 (0), 6-2 at the hands of Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, and Lauren Davis also toughed out a second-set tiebreaker but couldn't put away Russian qualifier Daria Gavrilova, who prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4.
Solid advice: The first Chinese man to play in a Grand Slam main draw, Wu Di, said his compatriot and 2011 French Open champion Li Na helped him with a few well-chosen words "Not technically, but mentally. Last night before I go to bed, I get a text message from her. She told me: 'Don't be nervous. Don't think about tennis. Just go to bed. Your answer will be tomorrow, not tonight. So don't think about anything else.'" No. 186 Wu, who won the Asia-Pacific regional wild-card playoff to seal his entry, lost to Croatia's Ivan Dodig in four sets.