Paris: It took about two years for Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin to come out of retirement. Kimiko Date Krumm waited 12 years before letting the fire inside her burn again and Dinara Safina felt the full heat in Paris.
The 39-year-old Japanese became the second oldest woman to reach the second round of the French Open after a 3-6 6-4 7-5 win over former world number one Safina.
Although she ached and limped on Court Suzanne Lenglen as she struggled with a calf injury, a big smile eventually wiped off her mask of pain.
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Date Krumm, who ran the London Marathon during her retirement from tennis, is now enjoying life on the tour as the world number 72 after some tough times when she was younger.
"In my first career, I would hate it. I always would go back to Japan, even for a few days only," she told Reuters in an interview. "Now, I can stay for a month in Europe. I'm older, wiser."
Date Krumm, who reached No.4 in the world in 1995, called it a day in 1996 but she was soon to meet someone who would drive her back to tennis.
"Lindsay Davenport told me 'you're crazy!'," said Date Krumm, wearing a V-neck yellow t-shirt, her calf still strapped a couple hours after her match.
In 1998, while she was in Paris working for a Japanese TV, she was invited to the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
She accepted the invitation and met Michael Krumm, a German Nissan driver who was competing in the endurance event.
Krumm, now a GT1 world championship driver, told Reuters: "I felt she still had so much power and talent. There was a fire in her. "It looks like I was right. Today's win feels to me like she won a grand slam."
Born and bred in the Japanese tradition, Date Krumm is not exactly the quitter type.
"She hates to retire. Today she played with her head," he told Reuters. "I was almost hoping she would retire (from the match) because I did not want her to aggravate the injury."
But she hung on as Safina lost her composure and eventually pulled off the upset, 15 years after reaching the last four at Roland Garros on the very same court where she beat Iva Majoli in the quarter-finals before losing to Arantxa Sanchez.
"Today was a big achievement, I actually enjoy it more than my earlier successes," said Date Krumm, adding her new career has been keeping her away from her husband most of the year.
"This year, we may have seen each other a week," she explained. "Last week, he was racing in the Czech Republic and then he drove there to see me. But tomorrow he is heading back to Germany."
Date Krumm, however, has no regrets on her comeback.
"I did enjoy my life for 12 years, I enjoyed myself, I enjoyed my life together with Michael," she said. "I did many things, I travelled a lot because Michael is German and also has family in Sweden. But I love playing tennis."Del Bosque bans Spain players from tweeting
Krumm felt she still had a desire to play competitive tennis. He was not the only one.
"We had diner in June or July 2007, with her, my wife and myself at my place. I felt at that time that there was still a fire in her," her coach Daijiro Furusho told Reuters.
"Then she called me after Wimbledon last year and asked me if I wanted to work with her."
The collaboration paid off on Tuesday and now Date Krumm, who plays right-handed despite being a natural left-hander because of Japanese tradition, could now become the oldest woman to reach the third round at the French Open as Briton Virginia Wade, who was three months older when she made it past the first hurdle in 1985, lost in the second round.
"I don't need to worry about the result," Date Krumm, who plays Australian Jarmila Groth next, said before heading off to the treatment room. "I don't care about the money, either. I had big successes in my first career."