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40-love: Kimiko’s having a ball


 

Originally published on: 15/10/10 13:10

“Maybe some people think it’s too crazy, but I’m enjoying it a lot,” says Kimiko Date Krumm; the Japan-born 40-year-old who’s gunning down the game’s elite right, left and centre. “For me it’s not only for the ranking or always to win the tournaments. It’s just to enjoy life.”

If you thought the comebacks of Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters or Jennifer Capriati were extraordinary, take a look at Krumm – currently two years into a second stint on the tour after a whopping 12 years away from the game.

Her first career may not have seen the kind of success enjoyed by Henin, Capriati and Clijsters, but Krumm ranked at No.4 in the world in 1995 and won six tour titles before retiring in 1996.

While Belgian comeback Queen’s Clijsters and Henin returned to competition within two years of first hanging up their rackets, the colossal gap between Krumm’s two careers is remarkable.

“To come and show the people anything is possible is really inspiring,” said French Open champ Francesca Schiavone after Date-Krumm’s phenomenal scalp of Dinara Safina in the first round at Roland Garros this year.

Just one of a number of stunning upsets Krumm has managed since returning to the game in 2008, the Kyoto-born player secured titles in her home country a full 20 years after first breaking through to the main tour.

She kicked off 2009 by becoming the oldest tour titlist since 1983 after winning in Seoul and then qualifying for her first Grand Slam in 13 years at the Australian Open.

But it’s been this season that Date-Krumm has really set the tour alight, grabbing consistent results to sit just outside the world’s top 50. Quarter-final runs in Auckland and Tokyo aided her charge up the rankings, and the world No.56 grabbed another scalp today, beating Sam Stosur in three tight sets to reach the last four at the Japan Open.

Defying reason and logic, Krumm – slight in stature at 5ft4 – is undeterred in the face of the new generation of heavy baseline hitters.

“It’s incredible,” Maria Sharapova admitted after Date-Krumm beat her in the first round of the Pan Pacific Open. “It just shows you how she has stayed in such great shape while away from the game. She is incredibly fit.”

Like Clijsters – who has achieved more success (in Grand Slam terms) in her second career – time away from the sport has helped her hone her mental and physical game.

She used the break to marry German racing car driver Michael Krumm and he, like many, was shocked by her retirement at the peak of her career: “I met her after she retired, but I thought she’s so healthy, so young, so fit that it’s crazy to stop.”

But while his wife competes at the top of the game for a second time, Krumm accepts that the lengthy spell out of the game has had a considerable benefit to her longevity.

“I think [it’s] a matter of how long will the body hold? I think mentally she has much less stress than 12 years ago,” he said.

And with her husband’s solid backing and her new-found lease of life on tour, 40-year-old Krumm shows no signs of slowing down…

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