Kimiko Date Krumm took Maria Sharapova to the old school of tennis Monday, scoring one of the biggest wins in the history of the Japanese game with a three-set victory over the former world No. 1 in the first round of the Pan Pacific Open.
Date Krumm, the wild card and the oldest player in the draw who turns 40 on Tuesday, beat defending champion Sharapova 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted 2 hours, 9 minutes on the center court at Ariake Colosseum.
“I think I’ll remember the last day of my 30s for a long time,” said Date Krumm, who faces Daniela Hantuchova in the next round. “Hopefully, I can enjoy the first day of my 40s just as much tomorrow.”
The tournament’s 1999 winner drew singular praise from her Russian counterpart.
“I think it’s incredible,” said Sharapova, the No. 12 seed. “It shows she stayed in such great shape even when she was away from the game. It takes quite a while to come back and be at a fit level.”
Date Krumm, who played her first match on home soil this year, only returned two days ago from Seoul, where she lost in the quarterfinals of the Korea Open.
“I came back from Korea, and had a hard time getting rid of the fatigue,” she said. “I felt better when I woke up this morning, but I wasn’t completely sure how I would be until I actually stepped onto the court.
“She’s the defending champion and a former world No. 1 and needless to say, she’s very talented. I don’t stand a chance against her if I don’t play at my best, so I just focused on getting myself as ready as possible.”
Sharapova had never lost in the opening round at five previous Pan Pacific Opens, and was trying to become the first player to defend the title since Lindsay Davenport in 2003-2004.
But Sharapova, who is 17 years Date Krumm’s junior, self-destructed with 11 double faults and was up 3-2 in the third set before the Japanese veteran broke her serve from 40-0 to key the comeback.
The 188-cm Sharapova, who towers over Date Krumm by 25 cm, said she struggled to adjust to her opponent’s game, which is unlike that of most players of her generation.
“Her style of play is quite different,” Sharapova said. “Her strokes are pretty fast and she stays inside the baseline and takes the ball early.
“Her style is not similar to the majority of the girls on tour — especially against someone that likes to hit big and faster on the court. She really uses that to her advantage; that’s what she did incredibly well.”
In a meeting of two former champions — the first ever between Sharapova and Date Krumm — it was the Japanese veteran who took the first set after being down 5-4 to Sharapova.
Date Krumm forced deuce to make it 5-5 before winning the next two games as Sharapova struggled with her shots, taking herself out of the match mentally.
But the former Wimbledon queen regrouped for the second set, racing out to a 3-0 lead. Date Krumm chipped away at the advantage, pulling three games back, but a calmer, cooler Sharapova found a way to spot her serve as she evened the score at one set apiece.
Date Krumm would not go away, however, frustrating Sharapova with superb shot location and a tenacity that belied her age as she clawed her way back in the match for the victory, which was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.