The past week in tennis was dominated by an onslaught of news.
Some good, some bad – and some downright ugly, no thanks to the controversy orchestrated by former world No. 1 Ilie Nastase.
It began last Wednesday with some happy news, when Serena Williams announced via Snapchat that she was 20 weeks pregnant.
Of course, Williams won’t play the rest of 2017, even though she rose to No. 1 in the world again Monday, which means she’ll have no chance to break Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles until 2018.
Williams will be long past her 36th birthday by then, so nothing is for certain.
Then there was Roger Federer, who penciled in his return to competition at the French Open in May.
But hedge your bets if you think it’s all but certain that he’ll be back for the clay.
Early in the week, CNN quoted Federer as saying: “If I feel like I’m not 100 percent (and) I’m not really fired up, then it is better to skip (Roland Garros).”
Rafael Nadal won the Monte Carlo Masters on Sunday for the 10th time, further consolidating his comeback and reasserting his clay-court prowess.
But his drive to the title was marred by a major controversy a day earlier in the semifinals when his opponent David Goffin was victimised by a horrific error by chair umpire Cedric Maurier.
The players were clawing tooth-and-nail up to that point, with Goffin up a break and serving at 3-2.
After the mess, a distracted Goffin won just one more game.
That same day, Nastase, Romania’s Fed Cup captain, made that controversy seem trivial with his antics on the first day of his squad’s tie against Great Britain in Constanta, Romania.
Nastase, who earned the nickname “Nasty” during his heyday on the pro tour, went ballistic during Johanna Konta’s singles match against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.
He appeared to F-bomb the chair umpire during a heated discussion.
In the ensuing hubbub, Nastase also reportedly hurled obscene epithets at Konta and British captain Anne Keothavong.
For his efforts, Nastase was ejected from the stadium by the tie referee.
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Konta defends herself but GB lose Fed Cup tie
Johanna Konta admitted the abuse she received at the Fed Cup tie in Romania will take time to get over as Great Britain slipped to defeat.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) subsequently issued an immediate, provisional suspension, effectively barring Nastase from participation or access to any ITF event for the foreseeable future.
The incident was just the capstone on a weekend of mortifying gaffes by Nastase.
On Thursday, at the official joint team dinner, Nastase reportedly asked for Keothavong’s room number.
It was apparently a “joke,” although Nastase might have been the only one who found it funny.
Nastase repeated the same cringe-worthy crack at the official draw ceremony.
On Friday, at a news conference, a reporter overheard Nastase making racist comments about Serena Williams’ pregnancy.
During his heyday as a player, Nastase rose to No. 1 in the world and played in five Grand Slam singles finals, winning two.
He is still remembered by many as perhaps the most spectacularly talented player to ever swing a racket.
Nastase is also remembered as the greatest charlatan and delinquent of the Open era.
He was amoral, his appetite for chaos and controversy unmatched.
It wasn’t the spelling of his name that made the nickname “Nasty” so appropriate; it was his habit of mocking and tormenting his fellow players.
Those included Arthur Ashe.
Ashe, like many players in that first wave of ATP pros, put up with Nastase because his creative talent made grown men cry – his flaky temperament was loaded with charm and charisma.
It was usually hard to take his clownish insults or mimicry seriously.
As his mentor and fellow Romanian, Ion Tiriac, once said, “Nastase doesn’t have a brain; he has bird flying around in his head.”
There were other times, though, when his diatribes against officials or interactions with other players turned ugly, laden with vulgarity and hostility.
More than one player threatened to punch Nasty’s lights out after his antics or serial stalling and arguing caused them to lose concentration.
He avoided many a locker room immediately after a match, because a real confrontation made him go to pieces.
Nastase’s history – as well as the events of the weekend – show just what different times we live in.
The boundaries for acceptable speech and behavior have been moved, and racist and sexist ideas no longer enjoy the protection of the disclaimer, “It’s just a joke.”
The extent to which Nastase doesn’t get this is further proof of Tiriac’s theory of what goes on inside Nasty’s head, as well as a vivid proof of how irrelevant Nastase has become in today’s world.
Sexy old man
Nasty is an anachronism.
He’s accustomed to saying anything he wants because he’s 70 years old and a national hero in Romania.
Also because he’s 70, nobody really feels they have to listen to him.
He says things in jest, but nobody finds them funny.
He wants to be seen as a sexy older man who once ruled the courts of the world, but to many, he’s just a toad-like figure with long, greasy gray hair.
He wants to charm the pants off everyone, but they just roll their eyes.
It’s easy to scorn Nastase, but it’s an even greater punishment to pity him. After he was thrown out of the tie, Romania rallied from 1-0 down to defeat the British.
That didn’t seem quite fair, given all that happened on the first day, but it did raise a good question: Who needs Ilie Nastase anyway? – ESPN