Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Kimiko Date leaves professional tennis, and leaves an indelible mark on the sport

Kimiko Date retired from professional tennis for the second time today. A former top 10 player with a great deal of guile and athleticism, Date retired the first time in 1995, not long after gaining the top 4 position. She said that all the traveling had just become too much for her, and she wanted to be in one place and have a new life.

She got one, too. Date married (she has since divorced), and her husband--having never seen her play tennis--encouraged her to return to the tour. She started playing in Asian ITF events in 2003 and won all of them. That was enough to convince her to stick around. In her second career, Date made a new name for herself by becoming the second oldest woman in tour history to win a title (Seoul, 2009), and the oldest player to beat a top 10 opponent. The latter feat she executed twice: She beat both Dinara Safina and Sam Stosur in 2010.

A natural left-hander who played right-handed, Date entered the top 50 in her second career, making it as high as number 46 in the world. In 2004, she ran the London Marathon.

During the first half of her career, the Japanese star reached three major semifinals. In the second half of her career, she played quite well, and served as an inspiration to many people, including me. Her many injuries finally caught up with her, though. At the beginning of this season, she had a knee cartilage transplant, and has not been able to move adequately since.

Date won a total of eight WTA titles, including the prestigious Pan Pacific event in Tokyo (1995). She decided to retire in Tokyo, at the Japan Women's Open. She was defeated by Aleks Krunic today in the first round, and that marked the end of her career. A few years ago, Date observed that some of the players on the tour had mothers younger than she. Now, at age 46, she can look back on what has to be one of the most fascinating careers in sports. She was a joy to watch and will be missed by many.

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