When Kimiko Date played her first Slam in May 1989, only 29 of the main draw competitors at this year's US Open had even been born. Yet only today, at the age of 46, has the Japanese champion announced that she is hanging up her racquets - for the second time. She will play her final tournament at the Japan Women's Open in Tokyo next month.
In a blog post, Date revealed that her physical condition following a knee cartilage transplant at the start of the year has become impossible to ignore. "Although there's no pain in my knee, I'm not 100% confident to move freely and unable to play as I wish I could in tournaments," she wrote.
"I have always loved playing tennis and faced every competition seriously but now, I find myself adjusting the amount and the quality of training while worrying about my physical condition more so than the competition itself," the three-time Grand Slam semifinalist continued. "When I compare my level of play to before my injuries, I realize that there's a gap and it's not easy to fill."
Date, who played tennis right-handed despite being a natural left-hander, reached her career high of No.4 in November 1995 before retiring for the first time less than a year later. But an eight-year hiatus was no barrier to competing at Tour level again, and it took her just seven months from being unranked and playing local Japanese ITF tournaments on her comeback in May 2008 to qualifying for the main draw of the 2009 Australian Open.
Date's second career saw her capture an eighth WTA trophy in Seoul in 2009, beating Anabel Medina Garrigues in the final - a record-breaking 13 years after her previous title in San Diego in 1996. The veteran's classic flat-hitting, net-rushing style also garnered victories over luminaries of the modern era such as Maria Sharapova (Tokyo 2010), Samantha Stosur (Osaka 2010), Dinara Safina (Stanford 2010), Li Na (Bali 2010) and Sabine Lisicki (Stanford 2015), and would take her to a second career high of No.46 in November 2010.
However, Date's most memorable performance on a big stage in her second career mirrored that of her first. In 1996, the then 25-year-old had won a superbly played second set against Steffi Graf 6-2 - at which point the match was called off for darkness. The following day, the German No.1 seed regained the momentum to move into the final 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
Fifteen years later, Date would once again find herself competing on Centre Court against a Wimbledon legend. Her second round match against Venus Williams still stands as a classic of stylistic contrasts - but despite her creative touch and flair, the Japanese player again found herself on the losing end, falling 6-7(6), 6-3, 8-6.
In her blog, Date again hinted at her indomitable will to fight on when she wrote: "It wasn't easy to shake off the desire to run around the court freely and play quick games like before. I have always believed that I can do it." However, she admitted that her long and inspirational journey had come to an end: "It'll be a lie if I said that I no longer believe that, but if there is a good time to put an end to my tennis career, I thought the time is now."