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Curry Kirkpatrick
June 22, 1987
Transylvanian tennis guru Ion Tiriac, manager and mentor of Boris Becker, has sunk his teeth into many a juicy business deal
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June 22, 1987

Count Dracula

Transylvanian tennis guru Ion Tiriac, manager and mentor of Boris Becker, has sunk his teeth into many a juicy business deal

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Tiriac's ex-wife, Erica—the pinchee whose honor he defended with a motorcycle—was a Romanian team handball player. Then, in 1974 in Paris, Tiriac met a model named Mikette von Issenberg and telephoned her every day for six months. Their five-year liaison produced a son, Alexander Ion (Ion Ion), now 10, who lives in his father's condo in Monte Carlo. A few years ago Tiriac brought his sister, Rodica, out of Romania to help raise the boy.

Ion Ion has traveled the world—Paris, Barcelona, Disneyland—with Big Ion, but now he enjoys nothing more than basketball practice at his parochial grade school and correcting his father's French, one of the seven languages Tiriac can use in the players' lounge. As peripatetic as the progenitor's career has become, Rodica and MacLachlan (when she is there) seem to provide the Tiriac men with a solid family foundation. Romanian holidays are celebrated with gusto, the first day of spring bringing out the traditional family pins and special cakes. For Christmas, Tiriac took MacLachlan and Ion Ion skiing in Courchevel, France, with the Nastase family.

Ion Ion is a chip off the old Tiriac block, all right. "The other day he ask me for 10 autographs," says Becker. "Then I see him selling them to his friends."

During a photo shoot at the condo, Easter eggs and baskets were scattered about. A telescope on the balcony was trained alternately on a Navy vessel at sea and the beach below. A Mona-can housekeeper served a sumptuous lunch, at which the dieting Tiriac only nibbled. "You must appreciate ducks," a reporter said to Tiriac, gesturing at the framed pictures of mallards decorating the apartment.

"I appreciate eating ducks," growled the Count.

The mask comes down again. "It's all a facade," says MacLachlan. "Ion is so different from what he appears, not so much emotional as sensitive."

Tiriac was once one of the tour's major womanizers, albeit a discreet one, yet he always deemed women and tennis an unacceptable mix. From his players Tiriac has always demanded total loyalty and mutual trust. Vilas likened their years together to a marriage, and when they ended their player-coach relationship, says Tiriac, "it was like divorcing someone you still love." Though the Argentine had enough distaff followers to rival Warren Beatty, when he was at the top of his game he kept his distance from the fairer sex. He was probably the only player to accept Tiriac's dictum of total control.

After their marriages, both Panatta and Leconte lost their commitment to Tiriac. Now Tiriac contemplates the potential problems posed by Becker's romance with Benedicte Courtin, 22, the daughter of Monaco's chief of police for foreign residents. Courtin lingers around practice long enough to do running exercises with the world champion. "You are a man. There are never problems with women, right?" Tiriac sneers to nobody in particular.

"No problem," says Becker with a laugh. "Ion should look at it this way: no parking tickets."

The Tiriac-Nastase breakup was clinched in 1972, when, instead of practicing for the upcoming Davis Cup final, which Tiriac hoped would be his last hurrah as a player, Nastase was chasing his first wife-to-be, Dominique Grazia, through much of the Western world. When Nastase failed miserably in the Cup, Tiriac was enraged. The men have long since made their peace, but the split was harrowing for both. They didn't speak for four years.

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