Japanese veteran upstages Rafa and Justine show

By Martyn Herman

PARIS (Reuters) - On the day King Rafa and Queen Justine took the first steps to reclaiming their Roland Garros thrones, veteran Kimiko Date Krumm eclipsed both former champions with a fairytale victory.

The Japanese, who turns 40 this year, sent 2009 runner-up and recent world No. 1 Dinara Safina packing in three sets despite a calf injury that meant she ended the match hobbling around virtually on one leg.

Rafael Nadal, playing his first match at Roland Garros since his shock fourth-round defeat last year, beat French teenager Gianni Mina 6-2 6-2 6-2 and Justin Henin, also four-times champion, overcame Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova.

Sixth seed Andy Roddick avoided a first-round exit at the hands of Finn Jarkko Nieminen with a battling 6-2 4-6 4-6 7-6 6-3 victory.

"It's just a matter of surviving and advance. Today I guess I found a way to get through it," the American said.

Former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, fellow Spaniard David Ferrer and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt enjoyed more comfortable routes through while former world number one Maria Sharapova reached the second round just before a late-evening downpour.

Date Krumm made her French Open debut in 1989 when Safina was three but, in her 32nd grand slam, she showed amazing tenacity to outlast the brittle Russian for a 3-6 6-4 7-5 victory. She become the oldest woman to reach the second round at the claycourt slam since Briton Virginia Wade in 1985.

"Today during the match many times I was thinking is it better to retire or not," Date Krumm, who quit the sport in 1996 before her racing driver husband convinced her to return 11 years later, told reporters.

"My condition was very bad. But she started to get a little bit nervous and then started to make easy mistakes. I tried everything. I'm sad for her but very happy for me."


Court Suzanne Lenglen was virtually empty when Fernando Verdasco opened the third day by beating Igor Kunitsyn but by the time Date Krumm limped off to make way for Nadal there was not an empty seat in the house.

It is impossible to walk far in Paris without seeing a poster of the Spaniard and after last year's shock loss to Robin Soderling and his subsequent knee problems there was a sense of relief among his adoring fans that the real Rafa was back.

Not that he played anywhere near his best against 18-year-old Mina and his aura will take a while to return.

"I didn't really serve well and I was playing too much from the baseline and I couldn't really move around the way I wanted to because I was too nervous," Nadal, who wore a space-age $425,000 watch, told reporters after his workout against the world No. 655.

"Today, unfortunately I couldn't really play the way I wanted. I was a bit tense, more than usual."

Like Nadal, Henin is a massive fans' favorite at Roland Garros -- a place the Belgian has described as her own private garden.

After a three-year absence she returned to find everything pretty much how she left it before retiring in 2008.

"I was feeling very happy just to be back on center court," former world number one Henin, who came out of retirement in January, told reporters.

"It's something that I never expected any more. I was here two years ago and last year just as a spectator and I never thought I'll be on this court again. But as soon as I walked in and I was into my match, I felt a lot of things coming back."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)