MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Youth and potential trumped age and experience at the Australian Open on Monday as 16-year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic took down 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
The 27-year age gap was the largest in a grand slam since a 47-year-old Martina Navratilova was beaten by 19-year-old Gisela Dulko at Wimbledon in 2004.
“It means a lot to win because I didn’t play really at my best, but I was able to fight through,” said Bencic, who is coached by Martina Hingis’s mother, Melanie Molitor.
Hingis, who was watching in the stands on a court packed with Japanese fans, looked concerned when a nervy Bencic trailed 3-0 and 4-2.
But Bencic showed great resolve to recover to take the set and then after Date-Krumm hit back to level with some typically smart tennis, the teenager regained her composure to clinch victory in her first grand slam match.
Date Krumm reached the semi-finals in Melbourne in 1994, three years before Bencic was born, but the Swiss said she tried not to think about the age gap.
“It was special,” Bencic said. “I was not thinking about (Date Krumm’s age). I had real trouble to play her because she plays a very different game and (hits a) very flat ball.”
Bencic is tipped as a future star of women’s tennis and Date-Krumm said she had the talent to go far.
“Of course she needs more experience but she has a lot of potential,” she said. “ If she has more power, if she plays more smart, she’s for sure top 20 and top 10 may be possible.”
Date-Krumm is now likely to fall outside the top 100 but said she would continue to play as long as she enjoys it, though she laughed off suggestions she could make it to 50.
”I will keep fighting, I don’t know how long,“ she said. ”Maybe five years more, maybe five months, I don’t know.
“Someday it’s coming to a finish but still I have a chance to play more tournaments. Maybe it will be tomorrow, maybe tonight, maybe five years later.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty