September 27, 2023

Open Court


Romania wins, but tennis loses

In the aftermath of the Ilie Năstase Fed Cup fiasco Saturday in Constanta, Romania, his now-former charges won their tie against Great Britain on Sunday.

Tennis, especially women’s tennis, didn’t win.

Năstase’s players didn’t need him. With veteran Monica Niculescu subbing in as captain, Simona Halep easily disposed of Johanna Konta 6-1, 6-3. Irina-Camela Begu substituted for Sorana Cirstea for the fourth rubber and clinched it against Heather Watson.

Romania remains in World Group II for the 2018 edition of Fed Cup. Despite the presence of a top-10 player in Konta, the Brits again must go down to the European zonal competition and try to get back for another crack at a playoff tie.

The top-ranked singles player on the Romanian squad in the absence of Halep, Begu wasn’t in the lineup for the first day of the Năstase-led tie in Belgium in February. Romania lost both matches. When Begu came in on the Sunday, she lost a tough one and Romania was defeated.

This time, she got a shot and made the most of it.

Năstase defiant

Năstase was unrepentant in what the British tabloid the Mirror called an exclusive interview. “Remember I was world number one. If you throw someone out who was a world number one – it’s not good for tennis,” he said.

It’s the Mirror, so take it for what it’s worth.

British captain Anne Keothavong’s reaction to some flowers she received said it all.

Meanwhile …

Apparently if you’re a legend, you don’t need a fake ID to get in. It doesn’t appear Năstase was able to get into the arena, though. After that, the ITF issued a statement.

The “ITF International Adjudication Panel” issued the 70-year-old a provisional suspension for breaching the “Fed Cup Welfare Policy.” Normally, per the rules in the case of such a breach, the “covered person” has 10 days to submit any material relevant to their case before it goes to the Adjudication panel. That clearly was fast-tracked in this case.

Per the statement, “Năstase may not participate in the Fed Cup in any capacity with immediate effect, and shall be denied access to, and accreditation for, any ITF event including Fed Cup. The investigation by the Internal Adjudication Panel is ongoing. No further comment will be made during the investigation.”

The suspension may well mean Năstase won’t be able to go to the French Open or Wimbledon, to wear one of his various military uniforms. From the rules, it seems the worst thing that can happen to him is to make that access denial permanent.Embed from Getty Images

Players pay the price

His players, especially Cirstea and Halep, got their share of criticism over the weekend even though the circumstances were hardly of their own creation.

Cirstea was candid in the wake of her victory Saturday, which included a long break after Năstase reportedly reduced opponent Konta to tears.

She was off-base in some aspects, something Konta later ascribed to her opponent not having all the facts. The officials seemed unable to tell her what she needed to know to be able to keep her focus on her job – to try to win a tennis match for her country.

Năstase sat with Halep for a brief time after he was told to leave the court. It didn’t last long.

Her point about understanding if Romania were defaulted at 2-1 in the set was counterbalanced by her suspicions of why Konta’s tears began only a game later. Her statements on some of the nasty insults from hostile Fed Cup crowds were eye-opening.

The Guardian reported Konta had received some unsettling news just before the tie, which might have contributed to her emotional state.

Halep front and center

Halep was in the eye of the storm more than any other because of her position as Romania’s top player. The tie was being played in her hometown, as well.

She sat with Năstase when he was first asked to leave the captain’s chair. After he was kicked out of the stadium altogether, she took the microphone and addressed the crowd.

And she was criticized for that.

Further complicating Halep’s position is that Năstase claims she had some input into his selection as captain last October.

Năstase said that longtime friend and countryman Ion Tiriac, the billionaire who owns this week’s joint WTA-ATP event in Madrid, was the connection. “He asked me to do this. I think he talked with Simona,” Năstase told the Romanian media at the time. Tiriac and Romanian federation president George Cosac are close allies. It seems like quite the cabal, doesn’t it?

Tiriac has been a major supporter of Halep’s tennis. At times, he has been a regular presence although Halep said in an interview with Forbes Magazine that he never assisted her financially. She won her first big title at his Madrid event.

To expect the Romanian players to do anything but defend their country, and defend a legendary sportsman in their country, is to expect too much.

There was only one bad guy in this scenario. And apparently he couldn’t care less.

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