Asia strikes blow for ages

China will be the Asian superpower at Wimbledon next week, but Japan wins when it comes to sentiment.

updated: June 18, 2009 15:37 IST
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China will be the Asian superpower at Wimbledon next week, but Japan wins when it comes to sentiment.

China's Zheng Jie, a semi-finalist at the All England Club in 2008, and compatriot Li Na are both ranked in the top twenty and will be expected to comfortably reach the fourth round at least.

Whether the same can be said for 38-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm and Japanese compatriot Ai Sugiyama, 33, is another matter.

Date Krumm, who has made a comeback after 12 years, first played Wimbledon in 1989.

Her last appearance was in 1996 when she was a top 10 player and lost in the semi-finals to Steffi Graf.

"I don't care about age because I am still moving," said Date Krumm, who has been granted a wildcard to play this year.

She came through qualifying at the Australian Open in January but pulled out injured in the first round of the French Open qualifiers.

Date Krumm won the Japanese national title last year and, at the urging of her husband, German racing driver Michael Krumm, she decided to try her luck on the gruelling tour where even teenagers struggle to keep up.

"I have nothing to lose," she said. "I just enjoy playing tennis. Before, when I was a young player, I couldn't enjoy the tour. I didn't like only thinking about winning or losing. Now I always have my husband waiting."

Sugiyama is about to play her 17th Wimbledon. Her debut came in 1993 and she was a quarter-finalist in 2004.

The Japanese number one is still a top 40 singles player and despite a chastening first round defeat at the French Open in May, the Tokyo-born Sugiyama is not ready for the old folks home just yet.

"Will I be back next year? I hope so," she said.

For China, Li and Zheng still have plenty of years ahead of them.

In fact, 27-year-old Li showed off her grasscourt ability last weekend by beating 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals in Birmingham before running out of steam in the final against Magdalena Rybarikova.

"I was so excited after I beat Sharapova, I forgot I had the final," said the world number 19.

Like Li, Zheng, the world number 16, has battled back from injury, with her run to last year's Wimbledon semi-finals helping her win the vote for 2008 Comeback Player of the Year.

This season Zheng - who won China's first Grand Slam titles with doubles partner Yan Zi at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006 - has cracked the singles top 20 on the back of a run to the fourth round at the Australian Open.