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By Richard Pagliaro

Photo Credit: FFT
and Mark Peterson/Corleve

(May 25, 2010) An inspired Kimiko Date Krumm spent today's first round guzzling from the tennis fountain of youth, while an indecisive Dinara Safina was gagging on an acrid cocktail of 17 double faults.

Fifteen years removed from her surge to the 1995 French Open semifinals, the 39-year-old Date Krumm became the second-oldest woman in history to win a Roland Garros match, fighting back from a 1-4 deficit in the final set and overcoming calf cramps to stun two-time finalist Dinara Safina, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

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A determined Date Krumm, who received treatment for the calf injury during the match, rallied from a 2-4 deficit in the second set then overcame the pain of her aching calf to launch another comeback in the final set.

"I am very sad for her, very happy for me. I just tried," Date Krumm said.

A frustrated Safina smashed her racket signaling the growing cracks in her composure as Date Krumm capped her comeback in wrapping up a two hour, 34-minute win against an opponent 15 years younger and seven inches taller.

"I couldn't work on my serve until I came here, basically. I thought I was doing pretty good, but then I got tight and I lost the motion," Safina said. "I started to basically just I got tight and the serve started to make more double faults."

When it was over, Date Krumm received a rousing ovation from French fans and trotted to the side of the court to hug her husband, German race car driver Michael Krumm, who had urged his wife to come out of retirement two years ago and return to the pro circuit.

Date Krumm, who will celebrate her 40th birthday on September 28th, is three months younger than Virginia Wade was when a 39-year-old Wade beat Briton Sara Gomer in the 1985 French Open first round.

Safina was sidelined for three months with a back injury she says may be career-threatening. She arrived at Roland Garros with a new coach, Argentine Gaston Etlis, after parting company with coach Zeljko Krajan, who guided her to three major finals in his three-year tenure as coach.

Succumbing again to the paralyzing pressure that haunted her in the second half of the 2009 season, Safina admitted she couldn't control her nerve when it mattered most.

"Of course you want to win, and especially I saw her, she's cramping. Then I just started to look at her instead of thinking what I was doing until 4‑1," Safina said. "I was more thinking about her than about myself, what I had to do. I lost the momentum.At least I started to play a little bit better. I just immediately get tight."
 
As one of the most accomplished Japanese tennis players in history, Date reached a career-high rank of No. 5 before she retired after playing the season-ending Chase Championships at Madison Square Garden in 1996. She remain retired for a decade, but Date Krumm hardly became a couch potato during her days away from tournament tennis.

She took up swimming, then became a runner and completed the London Marathon in 2004, finishing in under three-and-a-half hours.  She spent some quality time with her husband ("We tried to make a baby, but nothing happened," Date Krumm said), became a tennis television analyst for Japanese TV and remained a spokeswoman for adidas and Yonex, her clothing and racket sponsors.

"And also I work for JACO. It means Japan International like a UNESCO," Date Krumm said in her sing-song English. "Also I build school in Laos with my husband. So I work for like that. And then, yeah. And then I just enjoy the life with my husband. And then 2007 I start a little bit exercise for tennis. Yeah."

At the urging of her husband, Date Krumm launched her comeback two years ago. 

"He love the sport. He love the tennis. So always he ask to me, 'Why don't you play tennis one more time? This is just for fun, not serious.' " Date Krumm said of her husband. "Then he want to see me. Because when I met him, already I was retired, so he never see my only he watched, he was watching me on TV, not real. That's why. Then he push me. In 2007 match, I had exhibition match in Japan with Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova in Japan. So I start to practice a little bit, and start exercise also. After that, then we discuss we continue to play or not, and then he push me very hard. I just decide to come back on the tour."

Because Krumm is based in Europe, the couple have rarely seen each other this year, but Date Krumm says they stay in touch through skype.

Playing an old-school style with abbreviated backswing off both sides that produce extremely flat strokes, the 5-foot-4 Date Krumm is a fighter who fearlessly drives the ball into all areas of the court.

A year ago, Date Krumm claimed her first tournament title in 12 years, dispatching fifth-seeded Alisa Kleybanova and top-seeded Daniela Hantuchova before stopping second-seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues to win Seoul. At the age of 38 years, 11 months and 30 days she was the second-oldest woman in Open Era history to capture a tournament title (Billie Jean King was eight months older when she won Birmingham in 1983).

Date Krumm failed to qualify for the Frnech open last year, but entered Paris this year as the highest-ranked Japanese woman at No. 72.

Hitting shots so low a snail may have been to hurdle them as they hit the court, Date Krumm forced the 5-foot-11 Safina to bend low and try to dig the ball out of the dirt.

Date Krumm's unrelenting flat strikes combined with Safina's crumbling confidence on serve, ultimately did in the ninth-seeded Russian, who will fall out of the top 10 when the new WTA Tour rankings are released next month.



 

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