Wednesday June 22nd, 2011

WIMBLEDON, England -- In the match of the day, if not the match of the year, Venus Williams advanced with a gripping Centre Court win over Japan's Kimiko Date Krumm, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 8-6. Take away the grunting and this was divine tennis. Nifty shotmaking from all coordinates of the court. Successful networking opportunties. Angles. Fluctuating momentum. Just a thoroughly entertaining affair. Credit Venus for prevailing and, as usual, elevating her game when the circumstances required as much.

But, for now, let's devote a few moments to Date Krumm. As you've no doubt heard, she is 40 years old. In tennis years, that means you practically need to make her food into liquid, that she is a passenger requiring a little extra assistance. As Date Krumm pushed Venus deep in the third set, another Japanese woman, Misaki Doi, took the court. Doi was born in 1991. By that point Date had already played multiple Wimbledons.

LISTEN: Jon Wertheim checks in from Wimbledon

Yet there Date was, basted in sweat -- thanks to the roof that turned Centre Court into a hothouse terrarium -- coming up clever angles, chipping and charging, serving and volleying throwing up rainbowing lobs that landed smack on the baseline, having it out with a five-time champion who was bigger by nine inches, stronger, faster, and, yes, almost a decade younger. Date had more winners. Date won more points. Date did herself proud.

But she also did her generation proud. We tend to think that sports are in a constant state of evolution. Athletes are becoming increasingly bigger, faster and stronger. Training and nutrition and equipment and innovation continues apace. Bless Jack Nicklaus, but even marginal PGA players today would outdrive him on his best day. Bless Pete Rose, but he does he amass more than 4,000 hits in today's game, when virtually every pitcher is clocking in the 90s -- and then after six innings the relievers come throwing even harder. In tennis, we admire the achievements of, say, Tracy Austin. But at 98 pounds, what chance would she stand against today's Glamazons.

Date Krumm, though, has us rethinking that. An anonymous writer asserted that her play "demonstrates the cluelessness of the numbnuts who say that Navratilova, Graf, Evert and other greats from past decades couldn't compete in today's game." That's a bit extreme. But it's a point well-taken. Just because today's players are bigger doesn't mean they're more adept at constructing points. Just because they didn't serve 120-m.p.h. lasers doesn't mean they couldn't place a first serve when they need to.

If nothing else, Date Krumm's performance ought to stir some internal monologues within tennis. If a 40-year-old woman -- who stands 5-4 and weighs 117 pounds -- can compete at this level, what must Jennifer Capriati (age 35) or Martina Hingis (age 30) be thinking? For that matter, what must Nicole Vaidisova (age 22), seen walking on the grounds, think about her decision to retire? And the odds of her rediscovering success, provided she is motivated?

Date Krumm didn't win today. But the statement she made will echo in the game for a good long time.

Onward ...

Is Melanie Oudin a one-hit wonder? After the Ivanovic practice session it seems as though the young girl from Georgia may have had her moment in 2009. --Jeffery Nielsen, Surprise, Ariz.

• Yeah, this story isn't breaking too nicely of late. I wouldn't call Oudin a "one-hit wonder." Before the U.S. Open, she beat Jelena Jankovic here at Wimbledon. She had some fine wins over the summer. She played with confidence and, once she got in the rally, she wasn't getting outhit. I think even at the height of the mania, most people realized that -- as long as she was hitting her first serve in the mid-80s -- she was going to have a hard time winning Slams. But a solid top-20 player? Absolutely. Since then, of course, it's been tough sledding. Brutally tough.

I wish I had a better sense of where Oudin's head is right now. It can't be fun to go from being the darling of the U.S. Open and a morning show guest to struggling to stay in the top 100. She's so physically undersized, if her head isn't there, she's in big trouble. On the other hand, 2009 wasn't that long ago.

Sam Stosur: Sell, hold or buy? --S. An, Sydney, Australia

• That's tough. There's so much talent and athleticism. But Stosur is the first witness to be called when you want to make a case regarding just how mental a sport tennis is. She's never been at her best on grass. But to go as meekly as she did yesterday is a bad sign.

Didn't Goran show up at Wimbledon without having played much when he won it? I don't remember anyone saying that that reflected badly on men's tennis. The fact is grass is such a unique surface -- and there are really only a few men and women that are capable of winning Wimbledon, regardless of how much they've played. --Bob Romero, Monee, Ill.

Not so much. Note that he played grass-court tune-ups in BOTH preceding weeks. There's no question that male players could not reasonably expect to take a year off and promptly return as a contender to win a major. But so what?

Obviously, the Marat Safin/desire connection [from Tuesday's Mailbag] is that he is desired by many. --Leslie, Minneapolis, Minn.

• Nice.

Not sure why you like to beat up on Safin. I'd think that it's tough to knock on a man for lack of desire when he's the only one to have beaten Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in Grand Slam finals. Just think of that again: Fed and Pistol Pete. Surely, that can't be done on talent alone and takes some desire, don't it? --Tim Chester, New York, N.Y.

• No one's beating up on Safin. We're just pointing out that "desire" is not the characterization one necessarily associates with his career. Safin himself has said that he wishes he had been more motivated.

I raise my racquet or hand after a let cord or otherwise lucky-ish shot like every other tennis player. But deep down, under the apology mentality, I'm thinking, "Yeah, right, sorry it wasn't a screaming winner is more like it." (Don't misunderstand me, I do appreciate the tradition, and using all our well learned politesse.) --Skip, Philly

• Very good. One of you also noted that in basketball, players hitting lucky bank shots are required to admit they didn't "call glass" on the way downcourt.

Over the past few weeks, many of how you asked Serena could have sustained her ranking when she hasn't played the required three tournaments over the past year. According to the WTA, Serena has "0 points" in nine mandatory events she missed -- the three preceding Slams, Rome, Madrid, etc. -- but they count toward her tournaments played. Got it?

• Another tennis book to recommend. John Dolan, former workhorse of the WTA, has written a women's guide for the years 1968-1984, the days when first-round losers sometimes made £5 in prize money. Check it out here.

• Kevin Cameron of River Edge, N.J.: "I've been watching ESPN's coverage of Wimbledon religiously and the only complaint I have is the commercial for Sony Wimbledon in 3-D. The man serving in the beginning of the commercial (around the 20-second mark) looks like he is foot-faulting. It annoys me everytime and I'm sure Serena would agree!"

• Aaron of Illinois notes: "It was a pretty good day at Wimbledon for the veterans. Of the completed men's matches, 17 of the winners were 29+."

• Nicki Smith of Washington, DC writes: "Here's a link to a site where you can watch tennis and many other sporting events. Keep clicking links until you find the one that works best and is in your language."

• Dan of NYC: "You can watch Wimbledon online, all matches, and with high quality at firstrowsports.eu."

• Jeff Johnson of Fort Worth: "I am watching Wimbledon exclusively on http://www.watchlivetennis.org/. Costs only $12.95 for a year, and you get to watch lots of other sports as well. It's very good with lots of options for links to go to on each match. Highly recommend this."

• From Tennis Canada: "Tennis' female elite will grace the courts of Toronto, Ont. on August 6-14, 2011 for Rogers Cup presented by National Bank, and the infamous player line-up is slated to include Venus and Serena Williams."

• Venus Williams' Come To Win, comes out in paperback on June 28th: "With an A-list of visionaries, including Meg Whitman, Jack Welch, Bill Bradley, Vera Wang, and Bill Clinton, Come To Win answers the essential question: What principles that inspired you toward success as an athlete are helpful in life and in business?"

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