Kimiko Date-Krumm was the talk of the Australian Open on Tuesday after upsetting 12th seed Nadia Petrova in straight sets to become the oldest woman to ever win a match in the Open era at the tournament.
The 42-year-old Japanese became the second-oldest woman to compete in the Australian Open last year, and found a new way to etch her name in the record books this year in what was her 12th main draw appearance.
“Of course I'm very happy to win today, but I don't play for the record,” Date-Krumm said.
So what motivates the veteran? She declares it is simply a love of tennis that saw her return to professional tennis in 2008 after an 11-year retirement.
“I don’t have a target or a dream,” Date-Krumm said. “I already had big success in my first career, so I’m just enjoying the travelling and talking to the young players. It is fun.”
Date-Krumm’s first career between 1989 and 1996 saw her reach a career-high ranking of No. 4 and make the quarter-finals or better at all four grand slams.
She has well and truly earned her veteran status, and her ability to continue to be force on the women’s tour has drawn admiration from tennis fans worldwide.
After ousting Petrova, 12 years her junior, Date-Krumm will face Israel’s Shahar Peer, 17 years younger, in the second round on Thursday.
“Some people, the player's mother is younger than me - so it's like my daughter,” Date-Krumm laughed.
“Everybody is almost half age as me, so it’s not easy but I’ve got nothing to lose so I just try to keep going.”
It’s been a long-time between victories for Date-Krumm at Melbourne Park.
The last time she won an Australian Open main draw match was 1996. Croatian Donna Vekic, the youngest player in the women’s singles draw this year, was not even born.
Date-Krumm, who was ranked No. 5 at the time, could not even recall who she even beat in her last win here when asked after today’s match. For the record, it was Mexican Angelica Gavaldon. The scoreline was 6-2 6-0, identical to today’s match.
It was the pressure of winning that led Date-Krumm to retire from the sport when she was 26.
“(There was) always too much attention to me. And I was young, so I don't have not so many space for myself,” she said.
“It's very tough that time, so I don't like so much tennis, and tour also.
“You know, after when I stop tennis in 1996 I never think about I come back on tour.
“(There was a time when) I don't like so much tennis. But now I like tennis. I like practice. I like game. I like tour. “
Wins at grand slams have been harder to come by in her second career, winning only two main draw matches in 14 majors.
“Since when I start play again, always I have a tough draw,” she said. “Almost every time I play the seeded player. And many times I almost beat them, and then I lost many times.
“So this time also, when I saw the draw, (I think) well, it's happen again. Petrova is a tough opponent - she is the number 12 seed.”
Date-Krumm recalled losing a tight three-set first round match against Agnieszka Radwanska, the current world No. 4 and then No. 12 seed, at the Australian Open in 2011. She said she was determined to avoid similar heartbreak today.
“A few years ago I almost beat Radwanska here. I was leading 4-1 in the third then I lose,” she said.
“So I have many not good memories here, but I also have good memories here from the 90s when I made a semi-final.
“Today I just tried to concentrate on what I had to do.”
Date-Krumm is unsure how long she will be able to compete at the top level, admitting recovery from matches was getting tougher and tougher.
“Recovery is very difficult. There is not enough time, 24 hours is not long enough for me,” she said. “I need two days after each match.”
Date-Krumm, who briefly returned to the top 50 in 2010 and is currently ranked 100, said she had no secrets to her longevity, keeping a straight-forward routine of eating and sleeping well.
“It's simple life. That's it. Nothing special,” she said. “I sleep a lot. Last night before my match I was asleep before 10pm.”
She admitted her first retirement probably helped keep her mind and body fresh, not that it made returning to the game any easier.
“There has been a big change in women’s tennis,” she said. “It is now more powerful, more physical and more speedy. The level keeps on going up.
“It’s not easy, especially for me, but I like a challenge.”