Kimiko Date brought the curtain down on her storied tennis career after a first-round 6-0, 6-0 loss to Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic at the Japan Women’s Open on Tuesday.
Date, who announced late last month that this week’s tournament at Ariake Tennis Forest Park would be the last of a career that began almost 30 years ago and included a 12-year hiatus, was outclassed from start to finish by world No. 67 Krunic and managed to score only 13 points.
But Date, who returned from a 16-month injury layoff earlier this year and has been hampered by knee and shoulder problems, soon shrugged off the defeat and turned her attention to the home crowd to say one last goodbye before heading into retirement two weeks short of her 47th birthday.
“I feel sad more than anything,” said Date, who was honored with an on-court ceremony after the match, which lasted just 49 minutes. “I’m glad that I was given a chance to do battle again.
“Even though I couldn’t play at the top of my game today, I tried hard to win. I felt the weight of every point. I had my first career in the 90’s and after a space of 12 years I came back. I’m so happy I was able to play for so long.”
Date made her WTA debut in 1989 and reached three Grand Slam semifinals and claimed the No. 4 ranking in the world — still the highest among Japanese women — before retiring abruptly at the age of 25 in September 1996.
The Kyoto native returned to professional tennis in April 2008 at the age of 37 and went on to win the Korea Open a year later, giving her a total of eight career WTA singles titles.
Adding to that tally was always going to be a tall order this week in Tokyo, however, and so it proved as she struggled to cope with Krunic’s superior mobility and failed to convert the two break points that came her way.
“Maybe there were more things going through my mind yesterday or this morning than there were during the match,” said Date. “When I was on court today, I think I was able to focus on my match a bit more than I had anticipated. I was thinking that I only had a few more games left to play. But I was thinking that I wanted to win one game at least.
“It would have been nice to win some points today that were typical of my game. I’ve been practicing hard recently but I don’t think I expected the level of my performance to be very high. I just wanted to play my game as much as possible without really focusing on the points.”
Krunic, who was not even born when Date made her pro debut, became emotional after embracing her opponent and addressing the packed crowd at Ariake’s Court 1.
“I don’t like that I have to be the one,” said the Serbian, who reached the third round of the U.S. Open earlier this month. “I think this is a big moment. Kimiko had a huge career, an interesting career. It’s a great honor for me to be a part of it even though it’s sad for me. But I’m sure a great future awaits you.”
Date then spent time speaking with several young Japanese players during the post-match ceremony, including current national No. 1 Nao Hibino.
“I have watched the young players struggle with their performances and their rankings,” said Date. “I’ve seen the good times and the bad times. I’ve practiced with them. They have been very close to me and they also rely on me on the tour. So it was kind of sad that I knew I wouldn’t be spending so much time with them any more. But I also want them to do well, so there were a lot of things going through my mind when I was talking to them.”
Date has yet to announce her post-retirement plans, but revealed that she has no intention of moving into coaching.
“I don’t think I’m fit to become a coach,” she said. “The players would be under too much pressure. Coaching is a difficult job. It’s very tough, you have to go on tour with the player. You have to be able to understand the player, you have to be able to communicate with other coaches, with the staff members.
“I think it will be fun to watch the tour from a different perspective but I don’t think I would make a good coach.”
Rain washed out all but three matches at the Japan Women’s Open on Tuesday. In the day’s other action, Miyu Kato beat Hibino 6-3, 6-4 and Poland’s Magda Linette beat Risa Ozaki 6-1, 7-5.