RICHARD EVANS SHARES HIS VIEWS WITH 10SBALLS ABOUT HIS FRIEND ILIE NASTASE & THE FED CUP FIASCO

Written by: on 19th May 2017
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RICHARD EVANS SHARES HIS VIEWS WITH 10SBALLS ABOUT HIS FRIEND ILIE NASTASE & THE FED CUP FIASCO  |
Photo by @espn_tennis via Instagram.

 

 

10sBalls Editors Note:

We see great talent in Nick Kyrgios. We see great “meltdowns” kind of reminds us of Nastase. Think about it… And if you haven’t read Richard’s book it’s a MUST. (LJ)

Latest Update: Ilie Nastase banned from Wimbledon’s Royal Box after Fed Cup antics - http://www.10sballs.com/?p=676518

 

Nastase will Never Change by Richard Evans

 

He sent flowers. So he is contrite. Is that enough; is that enough to prevent Ilie Nastase from being banned forever from any future responsible position in the world of tennis? Almost certainly not.

No one, and certainly not a Fed Cup captain can get away with muttering a racist remark about Serena Williams’ pregnancy; ask Britain’s married Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong for her hotel room key and then, the following day, start insulting everyone in sight – the British team, a British journalist – in the foulest terms, calling them “F…………..ing bitches.”

There was more. No need to repeat. I have known Ilie Nastase for 47 years and I have heard it all before. Do I condone it? Of course not. Do I understand it? Not completely. In understanding this highly unusual, highly complex clown – and he is, seriously, a clown and a very good one – one would need a first class degree in psychology and even that would probably not be enough.

I wrote a book about the man who is inevitably nicknamed Nasty in 1978 and this is what I said on the first page:

“This is a story of a flawed and funny man, a supreme athlete, a born entertainer. But it is not enough to describe Ilie Nastase as one of the most vividly colorful characters to have burst upon the sporting world in this or any other age. For deep in his soul lurks a deeper shade of crimson. And when the Balkan blood is stirred by fear, anger or indignation, the emotions that are unleashed erupt with an intensity few of us can comprehend. Embarrassed and shocked by the ranting, raging profanity, we turn away…….”

Back in the 1970’s people were more inclined to turn away. Women were more likely to accept sexual comments as part of daily life. Umpires, mostly amateur and untrained, had no idea how to control him and many were mercilessly mocked by this prancing ringmaster who could whip up any emotion he chose. Crowds, mostly, ate out of his hand because he was not only absurdly talented but genuinely funny. Until he lost control.

There is always a fine line when you are performing for an audience and you need to understand how fine a line it is. Nastase never could. He could never see the red mist descending, the anger rising or realize that the resulting conflagration of emotion would leave his fans engulfed in horror and disappointment. He was capable of saying some unforgivable things – not least when, during his days with World Team Tennis, he confronted the owner of the opposing team sitting at ringside and told him what he could do with his girlfriend, using his racket handle to illustrate his point.

So that’s how bad he can be and now the British Fed Cup have seen it at first hand. So why has he been tolerated; why do Simona Halep and Sorana Cirstea say that they enjoyed playing under his captaincy and why do I still call him a friend?

Because, most of the time Ilie Nastase is one of the kindest, most generous and engaging people you will ever meet. I would be prepared to wager that far, far more people have benefited – often financially – from Ilie’s acts of kindness than have been offended by his insults. If some people don’t feel that balances out, so be it. But I know that it is true.

One year, when he was challenging for the title at Roland Garros, a Romanian cyclist arrived all the way from Bucharest. He was trying to break some sort of record by cycling all the way back. But his bicycle was a mess. Ilie bought him a new one. He was not a rich man in those days but he didn’t care. Every night, he would take up to twenty people to dinner on the Left Bank and no one could get their hands on the check. The stories of his generosity are endless.

All this proves is that people are not one dimensional. There is good and bad in all of us – a point illustrated in a very revealing way by the British actress Naomie Harris when she was interviewed by Charlie Rose. Harris, who was nominated in the Supporting Actress category for her work in “Moonlight” this year, explained why she found it very revealing to play unpleasant characters.

I cannot quote her verbatim, but basically she explained that, as an actor, you have to find something deep inside you to properly reflect the character you are playing. She said she reached very deep for one role and found a nastiness deep inside herself that she had never realized was there. “But it was,” she said. “It is there in all of us.”

Most of us never have to go searching and our nasty side is never revealed. Going with the pun, Nasty’s nastiness lives closer to the surface and, when stoked by extreme stress, bursts forth. He is not alone. I have been watching champions in many sports in close up for decades and many are simply not the same people in the heat of battle as they are away from the competitive arena. Do I need to mention John McEnroe? If you sat within earshot of Brad Gilbert when he was in the world’s top ten, your ears would have burned off.

One could say the same for the expression Rafa Nadal wears on court. It is not the genial one he wears off it. But Rafa contains his fierceness and keeps it within acceptable boundaries. Many players do not – maybe cannot.

Nastase has never been able to and, as a result one of the true geniuses the game has ever known only has two Grand Slam titles to his name. He talked or yelled his way out of so many more. He knew it but, seemingly, could do nothing about it. A lot of the time he was just out to have fun. The ultimate prankster, he would go through his party tricks and frequently have people in stitches. Once, when it started to drizzle at Wimbledon, he grabbed a linesman’s umbrella and returned serve holding it above his head. Funny….but too often something boiled up inside and the lava of vulgarity would start to flow.

When I heard that he had sent flowers to the British Fed Cup as a sort of peace offering, I could not resist a sad smile. I had seen that before, too. It was the day after his antics had caused Arthur Ashe to storm off court in disgust during a round robin match at the Stockholm Masters in 1975. It was the only time I had ever seen Ashe lose his cool and the tournament committee, having originally defaulted the American for having left the court, correctly defaulted Nastase from the match instead, but not the tournament.

The next day, while Arthur was eating in the restaurant of the Grand Hotel, I saw Ilie approach him meekly, lay a bunch of flowers of his table and say, “I’m sorry, Negroni.”

That’s what he called him, Negroni. It says everything you need to know about how Ilie was accepted for what he was on the tour that Arthur just laughed it off. “He doesn’t mean anything bad,” Arthur used to say. “It’s just Ilie.”

That week, Nastase was able to recover from the loss of a round through the default and go on to win the title, embarrassing Bjorn Borg in front of his home town crowd by beating the great Swede 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 – not by behaving badly but by playing brilliantly.

I am afraid there will be no recovery from this latest Nasty episode. Only if Simona Halep uses her considerable influence as Romania’s only genuine tennis star and demands his return will Nastase ever sit in the Fed Cup captain’s chair again. Personally, I feel that he should call it a day. It is amazing that age has not dimmed the rage and it is best we do not see it again. I prefer to remember the generous, funny man rather than the foul-mouthed abuser.

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