Safina humiliated by 39-year-old who sat out game for 12 years

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The Independent Online

When Kimiko Date Krumm made her debut here 21 years ago, 26 of the women's field at this year's French Open had not been born. The 39-year-old Japanese had been in retirement for 12 years before she came back two years ago and until yesterday had not won a match at a Grand Slam tournament since 1996.

No wonder there were tears of joy after Date Krumm poured the latest dose of misery over Dinara Safina, runner-up at Roland Garros for the last two years, by winning their first-round match 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. She was cramping badly after two and a half hours on Court Suzanne Lenglen, but was still too good for the 2008 and 2009 runner-up, who has won only one match since the Australian Open. Safina, world No 1 only seven months ago, is likely to drop out of the top 20 as a result of this latest humiliation.

Kimiko Date, who changed her name after marrying the German racing driver Michael Krumm, made her professional debut in 1988, reached No 4 in the world and made the semi-finals both here in 1995 and at Wimbledon the following year, where she was getting the better of Steffi Graf until a rain break came to the German's rescue.

After retiring she did not pick up a racket for two years, but kept fit and started running marathons. She ran in London in 2004, finishing in under three and a half hours.

Asked yesterday why she had returned to tennis, the world No 72 pointed at her husband, who was standing at the back of the room, and said: "He loves tennis and he kept saying to me, 'Why don't you play one more time, just for fun?'" To his apparent embarrassment she added another reason: "We tried to make a baby but nothing happened."

Having started her comeback in 2008, Date Krumm won her first title for 12 years in Seoul last September. In beating Safina, she became the second-oldest woman to win a Grand Slam match in the Open era after Virginia Wade, who was three months older when she reached the second round of the Australian Open in 1985.

Safina parted company earlier this month with her coach, Zeljko Krajan, and has teamed up with the Argentine Gaston Etlis, who used to work with Guillermo Canas. He clearly has his work cut out. Safina has been troubled by a back injury in recent months, but her confidence appears in even worse shape.

Having won the first set, the 24-year-old Russian made an increasing number of mistakes and gradually lost her composure, smashing her racket to the floor. On the final two points she hit dreadful forehand and backhand shots way beyond the baseline.

On a good day for former retirees, Justine Henin, playing her first match here for three years, extended her winning run on these courts to 22 matches and 37 sets when she beat Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 6-4, 6-3. The four-times French Open champion, who came out of retirement earlier this year, has not lost at Roland Garros since 2004.

It was a less than convincing display and the 27-year-old Belgian warned that she expected 2010 to be "a year of transition." She added, "Next year is more realistic to think I can be at my best level."

Britain's interest in the women's singles ended when Katie O'Brien suffered a disappointing 6-0, 4-6, 6-2 defeat to the veteran American, Jill Craybas. O'Brien recovered from a slow start to dominate the second set but made too many mistakes. "I didn't need to play my best to win," she said. "I could have won that playing mediocre, but my level was just too inconsistent."

Rafael Nadal began his quest for a fifth French title with a routine 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 victory over France's Gianni Mina, while Andy Roddick, playing his first match of the clay-court season following a stomach virus, beat Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.

Another American, Sam Querrey, the No 18 seed, said he would head home after losing 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 to Robby Ginepri. Asked if he was not entered to play doubles here with John Isner, Querrey replied: "I am right now. I won't be in about an hour."