In a month's time, the evergreen Kimiko Date-Krumm will turn 45. Wtatennis.com contributor Chris Oddo tried to uncover the secrets behind her remarkable longevity.
WTA Staff

It took Kimiko Date-Krumm eight months to claim her first WTA-level win of 2015, and when she got it, the 44-year-old knew what to do. She popped open the bubbly!

It might not constitute a typical reaction to a first round win for a woman who has spent many years inside the Top 10, but when you are the tour's ageless wonder, you bend the rules - even break them if you want.

Most tennis players are lucky to have one fantastic career. Date-Krumm, a former World No.4, who retired while still inside the Top 10 and took a 12-year hiatus, has been blessed with two. Does she realize how fortunate she is?

"Yes, of course," she told wtatennis.com in Stanford. "But I never thought about coming back. After I stopped my first career I was enjoying my life after tennis. I was enjoying myself, my marriage. But I love sports. I love challenges. My husband (German racing driver Michael Krumm) pushed me, he said, 'Why don't you play one more time?'"

Seven years after heeding his advice, Date-Krumm has been a constant source of inspiration to her peers, her fans, and the sporting world in general. After her improbable comeback from 6-1, 4-1 down against World No.24 Sabine Lisicki last Tuesday at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, social media was buzzing with praise for Kimiko. So was the press room.

"I'm so impressed with everything she's done," said 22-year-old Ajla Tomjlanovic. "She's in better shape than most of us. When I saw that she won on Tuesday after being down 6-1, 4-1, that shows you right there. She's amazing."

She added: "It actually makes me happy to see her win. She's an inspiration for sure."

Amazing. Ageless. Ferocious. These are words we use to describe the Japanese legend. But Date-Krumm says she's just normal. She's just doing what she loves. That's something that hasn't always come easily for her. "Seriously, I'm enjoying playing tennis," she says. "When I was young I didn't enjoy it because of the pressure. Now I enjoy travelling also. When I was a kid - first career - I hated travelling. But it was a big difference - no computer, no mobile phone at that time. So it wasn't easy to travel. And back then there were not so many Asian people on tour. And there was a lot of pressure because I was Japanese."

Date-Krumm says she didn't plan to have such a long second career, but playing without the pressure that constrained her in her younger years has turned out to be liberating experience. She doesn't seem to mind that her days spent in the Top 10 are but a distant memory, or that it takes longer to get her body to recover from matches.

"I am playing for tennis," she says. "I have passion."

She has wisdom, too, and she uses it wisely. To qualify for Stanford's main draw last week, she had to defeat her 17-year-old compatriot Naomi Osaka. Date-Krumm says her experience guides her through matches like these. "She doesn't know how to play when the games are getting tight," Date-Krumm said. "But I have many experiences. When I go on court I don't feel nervous. It's a big advantage for me."

Twenty-four year-old Alison Riske is among the many that are genuinely moved by Date-Krumm's inspirational achievements. "I think it's fantastic," she told reporters in Stanford. "I wish there were more players that stayed in it for as long as she has because it does give us - the younger players - hope in having a long career. She's just remarkable and I think that's so cool that she's still beating the top players and having such success and I hope she stays around for as long as she can."

How long will Date-Krumm's second career last? We're all crossing our fingers that the answer is a long, long time, but in truth not even she knows. She says this year has been difficult because she's had to deal with injuries to her elbow, shoulder and hip. But now that she's healthy, and starting to find her form, she's eager to press on.

"I don't want to stop with injuries," the World No.173 says. "So now I am healthy and I can fight at almost 100% so I am trying to reach the Top 100 again, and then we will see in the off-season. If I feel I am okay, I stop playing tennis. But if still I have the motivation, maybe I will continue."