GIFU – Former world No. 4 Kimiko Date returned to official competition on Wednesday for the first time in 16 months after recovering from a knee injury, but went out in the first round of the Kangaroo Cup.
The 46-year-old veteran, who retired when she was 26 before making a comeback at 37, lost to world No. 136 Zhu Lin of China 6-2, 6-2 at the international women’s event in Gifu, central Japan.
Date had arthroscopic surgery on her left knee in February of last year. But the meniscus was found to be badly worn out and she went under the knife again two months later.
“I’m relieved to be able to play in an official match without feeling pain and also feel like I’ve finally come this far,” said Date, who had fluid removed from her knee just days earlier and was worried whether her knee would hold out.
“It wouldn’t have been surprising if I had felt something that would make me think about retirement but that wasn’t the case. I felt possibility (in myself) and this was a huge step forward,” she said.
“The easiest way to overcome issues is to regain the feel for matches by playing them,” added Date, who revealed she plans to compete next in a tournament in South Korea.
The Kyoto native was the first female Japanese player to break into the top 10 of the world tennis rankings in 1994, and achieved her career-high ranking of fourth the following year.
She won the Japan Open four times and reached the semifinals in three of the four Grand Slam events prior to her initial retirement in November of 1996. Following her comeback in 2008, Date has won one singles title.