Match For The Aged: Venus Williams Tops Kimiko Date-Krumm At Open

NEW YORK -- Ordinarily, spending an afternoon with Kimiko Date-Krumm might make Venus Williams feel young.

But despite the nearly 10-year age difference, the elder Date-Krumm has a tendency to do exactly the opposite, pushing Williams to a third set for the third time in their four head-to-head matches Monday before succumbing 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the US Open.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

It's onto the second round for Venus Williams, where she'll face the 25-year-old Timea Bacsinszky.

Still stubborn in her classic counter-punching style, the 43-year-old Japanese veteran -- who took a 12-year hiatus from tennis, returned six years ago and is currently ranked 88th -- brought out the best and worst in Williams, the seven-time Grand Slam champion and the 34-year-old No. 19 seed.

"Definitely I was younger today," Williams said with a smile. "But when you step out on the court, I don't think anybody thinks about age. Because if you're out on this tour it means you deserve to be here. You've got the skill. It must means you know how to play. So at that point she has the number, as they say."

So, too, did American Sloane Stephens, the No. 21 seed who dispatched of Annika Beck 6-0, 6-3 in a tidy 1-hour, 1-minute match.

Working with a new coach, Thomas Hogstedt, after splitting with Paul Annacone, Stephens is looking to bounce back in the final Slam of the year after reaching the round of 16 at the Australian and French Opens and being eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon by then-109th-ranked Maria Kirilenko.

"Things are going really well," said Stephens, coming off a Round of 16 loss in Cincinnati to Jelena Jankovic. "I'm pleased with the way I'm playing. I'm just happy to be back here competing again."

As is Williams, who has had three straight second-round losses at the Open after a 2010 semifinal berth.

Asked repeatedly about possible retirement since being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder three years ago that causes, among other symptoms, extreme fatigue, Williams has quelled much of that discussion with an encouraging summer. She reached the quarters at Stanford in July and the finals in Montreal earlier this month, defeating her sister Serena in the semis before losing to Agnieszka Radwanska. Venus won four three-set matches en route to the Montreal finals and has won six of nine three-setters since the French Open.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

With a new coach, Sloane Stephens says she likes the way her game is going.

"I'm going to stay as long as I'm playing well and as long as there is an opportunity, as long as I want to be here," Williams said.

"I was feeling better this summer and I had some better results," she added. "I never want to play three-setters. It's not in the plan. Somehow I ended up in these matches. I would like to think the more I play, the better I'll get at closing it out."

Williams was not as sharp Monday as she has been recently, getting in just 44 percent of her first serves and committing 36 unforced errors. She faces Timea Bacsinszky next, then possibly 13th seeded Sara Errani in the third round, with No. 2 Simona Halep potentially waiting in the Round of 16.

But at 34, Williams takes nothing for granted.

"As they say, it's easy to watch a match, ... but when you get out there it's not always easy," she said. "Pressure, as I think Billie Jean King says, is a privilege. But a lot is mental. At the end of the day it's all the pressure you put on yourself."

And the discussion of age only adds to it.

"I don't even think about it anymore," Williams said. "According to Kimiko, I have another decade. She set the prime example. She's top 100 and no one can beat her easily. ... She's breaking the mold."

Date-Krumm's secret?

Solid defense, flat strokes and an occasional slice that often confounds younger players. "I also drink sometimes a glass of red wine," she said with a laugh. "So I enjoy my life also."

The idea of Williams being considered elderly in the game brought out still more laughter.

"For me, she's still young," Date-Krumm said. "But yeah, of course, sometimes mentally it's tough. Physically you can still be OK but tennis is every day practice, practice, travel everywhere. It's not an easy life.

"That's why I try to enjoy it. That's why I'm drinking wine."

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