TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Kimiko Date announced her return to professional tennis on Monday 12 years after hanging up her rackets, but ruled out a fairytale comeback.
A former top five player, the 37-year-old will test the waters at selected satellite tournaments before contemplating a full-scale return to the women’s WTA Tour.
The main objective for 2008 for Japan’s most successful tennis player is to do well at the national championships in November.
“Right now I don’t think playing on the WTA Tour is a realistic target,” Date told Reuters. “I won’t say there’s zero chance but it’s not my immediate goal.
“When I started practicing again I would get home and couldn’t even stand up in the kitchen. Luckily my husband was kind enough to let me out of the cooking.”
Date reached a career-high ranking of fourth in 1995 but abruptly quit the following year after making the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the last eight at the Atlanta Olympics.
“The last few years of my career I hated tennis,” said Date. “I didn’t enjoy travelling around the world and being alone. So I stopped and I distanced myself from the sport.
“But I’m older now, I’m married and I have a different outlook. I wanted to give something back to tennis. I’m going to take things gradually, to get a feel for where my game is. I’m not expecting miracles.”
Date, a winner of seven WTA titles, recently beat former rivals Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova in an exhibition event in Tokyo.
“That convinced me to try to come back,” said Date, also a semi-finalist at the French and Australian Opens. “I felt like I wanted to play again and that I could still play the game.
“I had a blank of over 11 years. It’s different to having played all that time. My body hasn’t had that wear and tear but I’m not going to rush it. I don’t want to risk an injury.”
Date, who damaged her Achilles’ tendon in 2002 playing doubles in a one-off appearance at the Japan Open, admitted her return could be short-lived.
Asked by one Japanese reporter if she predicted a “Rocky”-style ending to her comeback, Date scrunched up her nose in mock horror.
“If I’m not good enough this time round I’ll quit,” she smiled. “I don’t want to be getting (wildcards) into events and taking the place of younger players. That wouldn’t be right.”
Editing by Ossian Shine