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Date-Krumm enjoying life after 40

Japanese ace admits she did not always relish playing, though

Gulf News

Dubai: Japan’s veteran women’s tennis star Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42, admits she struggles with the thought of having to retire from the game she is passionate about.

“After every tough match I keep telling myself that this will be the last day I will play tennis. And then I wake up the next morning and the first thing I do is go to the court and start practising,” Date-Krumm told Gulf News after moving into the semi-finals of the 15th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge on Thursday after seeing off Karalina Pliskova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“Tennis is so much a part of me that I find it difficult to step away. I love this game too much,” she added.

Born on September 28, 1970, Date-Krumm has been there and seen it all.

The former World No 4 on the WTA Rankings with more than 200 tournament match wins to her name, including success at the Japan Open a record four times, Date-Krumm was awarded the “Most Improved Player of the Year” by the WTA (in 1992) when everything was going her way.

However, after playing in her second Olympic Games in Atlanta, and just four days before turning 26, she announced her retirement in 1996.

But 12 years later, Kimiko Date was back — and she’s recaptured her love for tennis.

“The first part of my career was perfect in so many ways. I was world number four, I reached three Grand Slam semi-finals (except the US Open) and I had a good time with big success on the tour,” she said.

“But I was not enjoying it all.”

After that break in 1996, Date-Krumm started touring as a television pundit.

“That was the time I got a chance to see tennis from the outside. I saw how people loved this sport, how people wanted so desperately to get to see a match and something in me changed,” Date-Krumm said.

So in 2008, the tiny Japanese player — now happily married to her car racer German husband Michael — decided to get back on the circuit, making enjoyment her prime priority. As such, she chose smaller ITF tournaments — and her decision has paid off handsomely.

Since her comeback, she has won several ITF titles, the most prestigious being the Hansol Korea Open in Seoul in 2009, making her the second oldest player in the Open era after Billie Jean King to win a WTA singles title.

“I had played just four weeks on the ITF in my first period and then I was at all the major WTA tournaments due to my high ranking. So in the second phase of my career, I decided to do what I had not done before,” she said.

“The fact is that I am enjoying myself. I am living life. When I decided to come back, I never knew I would be playing for four years. But at the moment I know that I will be there [on the WTA tour] in 2013,” she added.

“I have no goals, no targets. I only want to enjoy my tennis.”