TOKYO, Sept 12 — Japan’s Kimiko Date, the grande dame of women’s tennis, bowed out of the sport after being thrashed 6-0, 6-0 by Aleksandra Krunic at the Japan Women’s Open today.
The former world number four, who turns 47 later this month, was simply no match for a Serbian opponent who at 24 is young enough to be Date’s daughter.
Krunic took just 49 minutes to inflict the dreaded “double bagel” on Date in a lop-sided first round encounter in Tokyo.
Date tried gamely to mix up her shots in the second set but to no avail as Krunic, ranked 67th in the world, blasted winners past her at will.
Krunic continued to swing away from the baseline and put the former Wimbledon semi-finalist out of her misery with a huge forehand which Date could only dump into the net.
“It’s finally over,” a tearful Date told fans, many of whom were sobbing themselves.
“I feel sad mostly I guess but also really grateful for what tennis has given me,” said the eight-time WTA Tour singles champion, who took a 12-year hiatus from professional tennis after quitting at the peak of her powers in 1996.
Date, a wiry 1.63 metres (5ft 4in), underwent two knee surgeries since appearing at the 2016 Australian Open, but defied the odds to return to action in May this year.
The Kyoto native, presented with flowers and a trophy in an emotional ceremony after the match, has also been nursing a sore shoulder and it showed against Krunic.
“A lot of things were going through my head this morning but during the match I was just trying everything I could to win a game,” said Date after taking just 13 points off her opponent.
“I just didn’t have it physically. It feels strange to be retired but I have to accept it. At the end I was relieved I hadn’t made my shoulder worse.”
Date, whose game is a throwback to a time when tennis was more about lobs, dinks and clever use of spin than power-hitting, showed brief glimpses of her former pomp.
After warming up to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”, Date was anything but and lacked the power to trouble Krunic, who after embracing Date told her she had started the match as a nervous wreck.
“I want to apologise,” she said after completing the whitewash. “I don’t like that I had to be the one but Kimiko has had a great career.
“I was a mess at the beginning,” added Krunic, who next faces American Alison Riske.
“When I go back to the locker room, I’ll probably cry.”
Date broke several tennis records, most notably at the Korea Open in 2009 when she became the second-oldest player in the modern era—after Billie Jean King—to win a WTA singles title.
Despite playing on until the ripe old age of 46, Date still fell some way short of her idol Martina Navratilova, who retired a month shy of her 50th birthday in 2006.
Date insisted she had no desire to become a coach in the future.
“No, I’m definitely not cut out for that,” she laughed. “But I don’t feel like I did when I first retired and didn’t want to go near a tennis court again. I’ll stick to just watching.” — AFP