The Runner Sports

Japan’s Kimiko Date Retires For A Second Time

On Monday, Kimiko Date said farewell to the WTA tour for the second time. The 46-year-old from Kyoto, Japan ended her career, for the second time, at the Japan Women’s Open Tennis in Tokyo. Date’s last match may not have gone the way she would have wanted, but it is fitting to call it quits back in her home country. A quick 49 minutes 6-0, 6-0 loss to Aleksandra Krunic does not give Date justice on the impact her career had in the tennis world, not only for Japan, but also Asia as a whole.

In Date’s first professional stint, she competed against the likes of Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. However, Date did well to hold her own in an era of bountiful talents. Her initial career included reaching the Australian Open semifinals in 1994, the French Open semifinals in 1995, the Wimbledon semifinals in 1996, and back-to-back US Open quarterfinals from 1993-1994. Date also represented Japan at the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, GA, reaching the quarterfinals. Date would get to a career-high ranking of No. 4 in the world during.

Her second time picking up the racquet would begin after almost 12 years out of the game. While Date never achieved the same results in her second stage, the longevity of her tennis life deserves recognition. That is not to say Date did not have impressive results. Although she was riddled with injuries, Date did win one WTA singles title and five doubles titles. In 2009, Date became the second-oldest WTA singles champion in the Open Era at a tournament in Seoul, South Korea. A year later, Date would finish runner-up in Osaka in the oldest known WTA final against Tamarine Tanasugarn — the combined age was 73. Both of Date’s most recognizable highlights after her pro return would come at Wimbledon, involving the Williams sisters. At Wimbledon, in 2011, Date would play an unbelievable, high-quality, three-set match against Venus Williams, losing 6-7, 6-3, 8-6. Two years later, Date would become the oldest female player to reach the third round at Wimbledon, only to be stopped by Serena Williams.

Over both professional stints, Date was known for her compact, flat groundstrokes, and old-school net play. This old-fashioned, but not outdated game style got her wins over Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and Sabine Lisicki. Her best results would either come on quick hard-courts like the ones found in Japan, or the grass courts during the short warm-up before Wimbledon. Injuries just could not seem to find their place and leave Date alone, ultimately leading to her decision to retire once again. A trailblazer for Asian tennis and a role model for future Japanese players, Date’s career should be admired and acknowledged as one of the inspiring journeys in the sport’s history. So long, Date, but as most retired tennis players do, I am sure we will see you again somewhere in the tennis world, very soon.

Conrad Ellis

Conrad Ellis

Stevenson University graduate, class of 2016
Played tennis for 14 years and counting, favorite shot is forehand
Conrad Ellis