At 42, she has seen more seasons on the tennis calendar than the age of most of the youngsters that plod along on the tour with her. The Japanese veteran could qualify as a veteran among veterans, but she is busy planning her itinerary on the WTA calendar among women nearly half her age. Kimiko Date-Krumm is a treasured antique touring the world, while the rest of her ilk has chosen to clamber atop shelves, taking a deserved rest. Playing in her first match on clay this year, the Japanese star suffered a forgettable 0-6, 2-6 thrashing at the hands of Samantha Stosur. But the defeat did little to dim her enthusiasm to continue playing tennis, deep into the winter on her tireless clock.
For those that care to remember, the lady from Kyoto left the game in a state of disillusionment towards the end of the 1996 season. If that seems light years ago, the spirited Japanese turned back time to return to the circuit after a 12-year hiatus. That is how long it took Kimiko to accept that she was still in love with tennis. It took her doting husband, German motor racer Michael Krumm, to help her embrace the very tour she shunned after a long time away from the game.
Speaking to a swarm of media personnel enamoured by the affable veteran, Kimiko wore a tone of confession. “I was not enjoying tennis. I was not enjoying the tour,” said Date-Krumm. “I was not enjoying anything. I was only stressed all the time.” While that may sound disarmingly honest, it is more a sign of Kimiko’s evolved philosophical temperament. The benefit of experience and the companionship of her husband have combined to afford the Japanese a new joy that was missing in her first stint on the tour.
The legendary Arthur Ashe was quoted as saying – “You’ve got to get to the stage in life where going for it is more important than winning or losing.” Kimiko is living those words in her role as the eldest stateswoman of women’s tennis. When Date-Krumm made her French Open debut in 1989, nearly half the women (57 to be exact) at the French Open weren’t even born. The hard-working Kimiko had worked her way up the ladder, reaching the semis in Melbourne (1994), Paris (’95) and London (’96), climbing to fourth spot on the rankings table.
Success, though, did not come bundled with joy, and Kimiko decided she had to call time on her career and start living life. She had only spent seven years on the tour, but the grind left her feeling empty and disillusioned. “Sometimes I was crying on the airplane because I didn’t want to stay out of Japan,” said Kimiko. “After I stopped tennis, I enjoyed a normal life. Then I married with a German guy and I changed a lot.”
Incidentally, her first round opponent had a score to settle. Stosur earned the unenviable tag of being the first top ten player to lose a match against a forty-year-old when she lost to Kimiko in Osaka, 2010. Yesterday’s 64 minute thumping might have pleased the Aussie, but the loss was no cause for displeasure for the Japanese. The 42-year-old is delighted to just be on court with some of the best players. She is ranked 81, and participation is reward enough.
Besides, clay isn’t even on Kimiko’s menu – it was a bonus for her to arrive in Paris just after winning the doubles event in Strasbourg with Chanelle Scheepers. The duo ousted Cara Black and Marina Erakovic in the finals of the Strasbourg Grand Prix. “I didn’t play on red clay even once this year (singles), because for many years, when I played in the red clay tournaments, I would lose in the first round (repeats twice) and then I would get injured,” she said. “I’ve got doubles here then I’m already focused on the grass court season.”
Keep plugging away Kimiko, we are just happy to see you live under the sun at an age when the pleasures of the tour lay in playing. Winning and losing are just incidental neighbours on your wonderful journey.Published 29 May 2013, 09:08 IST