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Much of the time, of course, Nastase is putting on even when he is explaining about putting on. In the three years that he has been playing in the U.S. he has learned to handle the language well and knows "what is behave." When subjects of a sensitive nature—for instance, his court deportment, Rumanian politics or the amount of money he makes—threaten to rear their ugly heads his English suddenly becomes halting, his face takes on a bewildered expression and it is time to move on to other things: girls, music, the art of tennis. Despite his declarations to the contrary, Nastase knows what is misbehave.
Generally speaking, this slump-shouldered, sloe-eyed, handsome man has dominated the international circuit for-the past few years mainly through outrageous histrionics rather than by his natural racket flair or any degree of consistent winning. He has filled tournaments on four continents with bizarre, funny and sometimes unfortunate moments better suited to something out of opéra bouffe than to tennis competition. Here is Nastase disputing line calls. There, arguing with umpires and spectators. Here, engaging in sit-down delays. Nastase glares and makes notorious gestures. He mimics opponents' styles and mistakes. He imitates all manner of jungle noises and animal habits in explanation of how and what the man across the net is doing. At the same time that he is taunting and infuriating everyone, Nastase is joking and laughing it up much like the cute and horrid little boy who spoils the birthday party even as he blows out the candles.
In Monte Carlo, Nastase and his massive, hirsute countryman, Ion Tiriac (from whom he learned practically his entire act—the act originated with Tiriac, the obnoxiousness is Nastase's own contribution), were defaulted once in a doubles match because of their continued whining and bad attitude. They calmly walked off the court but then refused to play their quarterfinals singles matches the next day. "No doubles, no singles," they chorused. Quickly, they were reinstated in the doubles by tournament officials. It was a nice power play but hardly one approved by advocates of fair treatment.
In Richmond, angered by line calls and lost momentum, Nastase sat down and refused to continue his match against Charlie Pasarell. Fifteen minutes later he was finally coaxed back onto the court, about the time Pasarell's back muscles had stiffened up from the delay. Pasarell not only lost the match but was unable to play for four days afterward. "It was the only time I've ever wanted to punch a guy who beat me," he says.
In Paris, Nastase persuaded the umpire to address him as "Mr. Nastase" in a match with Cliff Richey. He proceeded to grunt barnyard sounds in an impersonation of Richey's efforts. He called Richey "an-ee-mal, an-ee-mal" and then said to him, "Richey, you wonder why they not call you mister like me? Because you not gentleman, Richey. You an-ee-mal." The two have barely spoken since.
At the Royal Albert Hall in London, Nastase's mimicry angered Clark Graebner to such an extent that the American climbed across the net, grabbed Nastase by the shirtfront and threatened to crack open his head with the racket. Nastase later defaulted, claiming he was "physically terrified." Graebner was silently acclaimed as a savior by touring pros everywhere.
In Nice during a mixed doubles match Nastase blasted two volleys that knifed into the back of Gail Chanfreau, who was trying to escape on the other side. The first one was a mistake, he said. So was the second one. Trembling and in tears, Chanfreau hurled her racket at Nastase's head, but it missed, just flashing by his modishly clipped bangs. "I want her defaulted," he screamed. "I want him defaulted," she screamed. Neither was. Later, Jean Baptiste Chanfreau, Gail's husband, confronted Nastase. "You do these avair again," warned the Frenchman, "I keel you."
At Wimbledon in his final, losing effort to Stan Smith, Nastase regarded his racket strings as too tight and bellowed to his Italian mentor, Michele Brunetti, sitting in the stands, for a new one. His noisy exhibition continued for two sets—transfixing the shocked British populace—before he settled down to play brilliantly.
At Forest Hills, while defeating Arthur Ashe for the championship, Nastase threw a towel at a service-line judge, slammed a ball at him and then whipped an unmistakable finger move on the crowd. He was booed with venom.
Despite all of the commotion he has caused, Nastase has added so much color and excitement to tournament tennis that vast majorities of spectators forgive his emotional displays and prefer to sit back and enjoy his athletic work. Most players, too, admit that off the court he is a joyous social companion and that it is impossible to remain angry with him for very long. There is evidence, moreover, that Nastase's presence has opened up the game for a broad audience to whom his style is especially appealing. Within the past few weeks as he has performed in America's population meccas of New York and Los Angeles, many denizens of the inner city core have watched him on television and in person and come to the conclusion that for the first time tennis has a player with soul.