Originally Published: October 14, 2010 11:46 p.m.
For being such a tremendous tennis player, it's rather sad that for all the accomplishments llie Nastase acquired over a 20-year professional tennis career, he's known for setting the standard for which all other misbehaving players are measured.
- He was ranked number one in the world twice in the early 70s
- He was one of five players in history to win more than 100 ATP titles in singles and doubles
- He won two Grand Slam singles (three in men's doubles and two mixed titles).
- He won four year-end World Championships
- He led the small country of Romania's Davis Cup team to three finals.
Nastase was known for athleticism that went beyond what most players' abilities had at that time, and when he was at his best in concentration, it was pure genius.
He could dazzle and mystify the fans as well as his opponents.
But his attitude and demeanor had a Dr. Jeckle/Mr. Hyde aspect. More than, in retrospect, he probably wished he had displayed.
Would it have been possible to keep this personality trait in check, or would it have ruined the drive that made him magnificent, entertaining, bizarre, abrasive and many times, rude?
Like it or not, like him or not... .the crazy legendary explosions that many times happened even during crucial phases of a match brought the crowds in and llie entertained them, good, bad and occasionally ugly.
His partners in doubles were not exactly known for their exemplary ways.
There was Ion Tiriac, Jimmy Connors and even Rosemary Casals, It's not certain even today if they learned from him, or he learned from them...probably a bit of both.
I was lucky enough to see the Bucharest Buffoon (that was the nickname he was given by Bud Collins) in action in a tournament in the Columbus, Ohio area.
What sticks out in my mind isn't that he won or lost, or even whom he played, but that he loved to win the crowd over any way he could.
In this instance, he was in a long rally and saved a tough shot with a high-deep lob, after he hit it, he ran back behind one of the umpires and hid.
Right before his opponent hit the return he raced back out and hit another high lob...and then raced behind the umpire again.
He did this three times and then came out and hit a scorching winner. The crowd went wild.
But he could curse, spit, yell, act out, mimic and even once assaulted a journalist.
One year he played doubles with Connors in 12 matches, they won five and were disqualified in the other seven.
Sports Illustrated made up a list of the "Top 15 Hotheads", and guess who was in the No. 8 position?
John McEnroe credits Nastase with giving pointers to him on how to act on the court.
And we thought McEnroe invented the word volatile.
And there have been some fairly interesting and twisted quotes by Nastase:
- "As long as I can be angry, then I play well, I can beat anybody."
-"I am happy when I get angry."
- "My ambition is to do a good job, I never plan anything."
-"You don't go to an X-rated movie if you don't want to watch it."
And off the court, he was a ladies man. It was reported by Maxim magazine he slept with more than 2,500 women.
He retired from the tour in 1985, and since that time has tried his hand at writing novels.
He also had an unsuccessful run for mayor of Bucharest, he played the Senior Tour and 45-and-over division in the major events, and more recently stepped down as the chairman of the Romanian Tennis Federation.
In February of this year he was divorced for the third time
"I haven't reported my missing credit card to the police because whoever stole it is spending less than my wife," he said.
So at the age of 64 llie is single, still a loose cannon.
Without the aspect and entertainment of a racquet, tennis court and crowd to entertain, it's a bit sad to see.
Hopefully, the (most of the time) likeable Nastase will find a happy and fulfilling situation that works for him.
Maybe Jerry Springer has an opening.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 982-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org