By Bill Simons
STANFORD—Last year, when China’s vastly popular Li Na retired, some feared we wouldn’t be hearing much about top-flight Asian women players for awhile. But, not to worry—the unsinkable Kimiko Date-Krumm has created waves at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.
In the qualifying tournament, she beat fellow Japanese player Naomi Osaka, who, at 17, is a mere 27 years younger than the eternal Date-Krumm.
The 44-year-old has been around so long that Jon Wertheim suggested that when she “mentions having played doubles with Noah, she’s not talking about Yannick.”
Then again, Kimiko’s comebacks have comebacks.
So never mind that the power-serving Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki crushed Date-Krumm in first set of their opening round match, 6-1. Kimiko just took her time and brilliantly battled back to win 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
Date-Krumm broke into the game in 1988, then retired in 1996, and went on to do extraordinary charity work for Laotian schools before returning to the game in 2008.
Her comeback caused a sensation, as 150 reporters covered her playing a minor tournament. Date-Krumm—the highest-ranked Open-era Japanese player ever—was once No. 4 in the world, is the second-oldest player ever to win a WTA tournament, and the oldest to ever beat a Top 10 player.
With wins over Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, and Lindsay Davenport, she frequently overcame her diminutive size—just 5’4”. But things weren’t always easy. She used acupuncture and oxygen chambers to recover from tough matches, and once said that her goal in a match against Serena was to last more than an hour. She did, by a minute.
This afternoon Date-Krumm will play the promising Ajla Tomljanovic, who upset Madison Keys. The Croatian-Australian is half Date-Krumm’s age.