Commentary

After his outbursts, Nastase must be banned for life

Ever since Ilie Nastase first stained his reputation as a gifted tennis player and winner of the French and US Opens with a succession of on-court verbal outbursts that saw him nicknamed Nasty, the sport has wondered what to do with him.

Now, 45 years later and with the former world No. 1 aged 70, the answer is unavoidable. The International Tennis Federation can no longer shy away from dealing with his latest disgraceful behaviour. Nastase must be banned from tennis for life.

When he was handed the Romanian Fed Cup captaincy last October, many people were stunned. This is a man who in his autobiography boasted of bedding more than 2,500 women. Nastase has also long flirted with being labelled a racist with some of his comments during his playing days.

He habitually referred to the late Arthur Ashe as "negrito", or even worse. That was the 1970s. He has not improved or matured with age. His comment on Friday about the colour of Serena Williams' unborn baby was unacceptable. So, too, was his jocular request during the Fed Cup draw ceremony for this weekend's promotion play-off between Romania and Britain, for the hotel room number of British captain Anne Keothavong, who is also pregnant.

Nastase has been allowed to get away it for decades because of his past successes and mischievous reputation, and was even inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991.

Then came a verbal attack on the British journalist who accurately reported his comments about Williams' unborn child.

"Let's see what colour it has," he said. "Chocolate with milk?"

It beggars belief that Nastase could dig a deeper hole for himself but he managed it as play in the tie at the Black Sea port of Constanta got under way.

The day started with Nastase storming into the press room and berating journalist Eleanor Crooks, repeatedly calling her "stupid". Things escalated in the second rubber as Britain's world No. 7, Johanna Konta, played the Romanian No. 2, Sorana Cirstea. Nastase was involved in a heated discussion with the match referee, Andreas Egli, after British complaints that crowd noise was influencing play.

Although his team were leading the tie after winning the first singles rubber, Nastase flew into a foul-mouthed rage. He said to the umpire: "What's your f****** problem?" He then called Keothavong and Konta "f****** bitches".

There is no place in tennis for this kind of behaviour. Nastase has been allowed to get away it for decades because of his past successes and mischievous reputation, and was even inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991. Now he must be banned.

The ITF is investigating Nastase's comments about Williams and his verbal attack on the British journalist and released a statement saying: "This is unacceptable behaviour by a Fed Cup captain. No player, official, member of the media or fan should have to endure any kind of abuse, and Mr Nastase will rightly play no further part in this tie.

"A formal investigation is already under way and any decision or sanction will be made by the ITF's adjudication panel."

Nastase was ejected from the stadium and subsequently expelled from the tie to avoid further problems. It should not be the job of Romania's leading player, world No. 5 Simona Halep, to calm a potentially combustible crowd after a captain old enough to be her grandfather had incited them.

Nastase's history shows an utter disregard for officialdom. In 1977, during a bad-tempered Wimbledon quarter-final against Bjorn Borg, he verbally castigated the British umpire Jeremy Shales. After one reprimand he screamed at the man in the chair: "Mister Nastase to you. You call me Mister Nastase."

Two years later, at the US Open, Nastase was playing a young John McEnroe and was employing all his tricks of gamesmanship to try and infuriate his opponent.

When the New York-based umpire Frank Hammond penalised Nastase, the Romanian refused to play on. First he was penalised a game for stalling and arguing after standing on the baseline, cursing the official.

The crowd at Flushing Meadows seemed close to rioting and the tournament referee, Mike Blanchard, was forced to take the microphone and appeal for calm. Nastase was disqualified, only to be reinstated to satisfy mob rule.

After McEnroe won the encounter, Hammond said: "That was the most disgusting thing that I've seen in 31 years in tennis."

The events at Constanta on Saturday were worse, with Konta reduced to tears by Nastase's antics. The only acceptable outcome is for Nastase to be thrown out of the sport for good.

The Romanian is a successful politician in his country and also an honorary major-general in the army. Romania might well revere him but he is a disgrace to the game of tennis and should be treated accordingly.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'After his outbursts, Nastase must be banned for life'. Print Edition | Subscribe