September 26, 2009

Gotta Have Seoul

I'd be willing to bet that many of the Pretty Young Things at the top of the WTA today hadn't even picked up a tennis racket when Kimiko Date Krumm was at the top of her game.

The thirty-eight year old Tokyo native turned pro in 1989 and cracked the top-ten in 1994 after winning the title in Sydney. She reached a career high #4 ranking the next year and had notched wins over Hall of Famers like Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Gabriela Sabitini, not to mention Conchita Martinez and Lindsay Davenport before retiring at the Tour Championships in 1996.

But last year Kimiko came back on the circuit, playing -- and winning -- a handful of ITF titles in Japan. In January she qualified for her first Grand Slam tournament in twelve years. And while she continues to do well in the challenger events, she hadn't won a single match in a main draw in 2009.

Until this week.

At the Hansol Korea Open in Seoul the persistent hitter may have gained late entry, but she made it to the semifinals with wins over fifth seed Alisa Kleybanova, against whom she was down match point, and tournament favorite Daniela Hantuchova, on her own comeback trail. This morning Kimiko scored her fourth straight victory with a win over an underrated Maria Kirilenko to make her first Tour final since her return.

Tomorrow (or, tonight) she'll face Anabel Medina Garrigues, the woman who ousted her in the first round of Guangzhou last week. About twelve years her junior, Kimiko's opponent will certainly be the sprier of the two -- but the veteran is clearly the sentimental favorite. In both her wins and losses this year, Date Krumm has proven that she's got some real heart and a determination few other professionals can also claim.

A win on Sunday will certainly give Kimiko some great momentum going into next week's Pan Pacific Open in her hometown, a title she won back in 1995. A wildcard in Tokyo, she'll face another youngster Aleksandra Wozniak in her opening round, and potentially U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki -- who, incidentally, wasn't even alive in 1989, when Date Krumm went pro -- in the second.

There's a daunting road ahead of her, but Kimiko has already proven just how strong she can be amid adversity. And I'm sure going to love watching her!

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