Last year, following their second failure in the Davis Cup, a 280-page book about the lives of Nastase and Tiriac was published in Rumania to capitalize on the interest in the sport that the two men have aroused. Entitled Ar Fi Fast Prea Frumos...(It Would Have Been Beautiful...), presumably if they had won the cup, the book sells for 8.5 lei—51 cents—and the first edition remained in the bookstores for only a day and a half. It has sold more than 100,000 copies and the author, Ion Chirila, has made enough in royalties to buy a new car, a considerable luxury in Rumania.
In several excerpts from the book, Nastase explains his feeling for the game. "For me, tennis is the art of doing something your opponent never expects," he says. "How wonderful it is to look over after smashing the ball he cannot see and watch as he cannot move and seems split in half.
"My main weapon," he goes on, "is the element of surprise. I want to play the game inside out and upside down if possible. I want to attack the rules of tennis and protect myself against rules at the same time. This may be a childish plan but this is it.
"Sometimes I feel like tap-dancing, screeching, unscrewing light bulbs, pulling curtains, combing hair, doing knee-bends, handstands and turning somersaults out there. I have no patience. I want the contest to be one yard from the net. To not have the time to pass the racket from one side to the other. To play until my opponent and I fall down with exhaustion. To beat him and then embrace."
Probably the closest Nastase has ever come to being embraced by an opponent was when Graebner came to the brink of maiming him at the Royal Albert Hall last January. Nastase always has had trouble beating Graebner and the two had clashed before. This particular act started after Nastase hit a net cord winner that Graebner just failed to reach. The umpire, however, ruled that the ball girl had mysteriously run into the doubles lane and had caught the shot before Graebner had a fair chance; a let was called. Nastase reacted with fury. "No play two, my point," he shouted. The decision stood.
Graebner went on to win the game and, as the two changed sides, Nastase began his routine. He had some neat words for Graebner, some hand signs for the umpire and other things for the crowd. As he was preparing to serve, Nastase looked up and saw Graebner at the net motioning him to come forward. The Rumanian went ahead and served into the empty court, then mimicked his opponent by motioning Graebner to come to him.
Graebner jumped the net, grabbed Nastase by the shirt and said, in the words of the Rumanian, "You not doing me what you did Richey in Paris, bastard. You cut this——out or I crash your head."
They played out the set, during which Nastase did not win another game; Graebner rifled a couple of forehands into the audience; the ball girls cowered in terror; and the umpire lost all track of scoring. Luckily, the tension did not last much longer, for Nastase abruptly quit, saying he felt "threatened."
Graebner will not discuss the incident publicly, claiming that it is "water under the bridge" and that now the two are friends who will play doubles together this winter. But Nastase still insists he was wronged.
"Everyone say I hassle, hassle, hassle," he says. "What is hassle? This not hassle. This preparation. I learn such preparation from Tiriac. Most players humorous fellows. They take joke. I call South African players 'racists.' All time, 'racists.' They laugh. I call Godzilla Smith. Negroni Ashe. Cheese Omelet Okker. The Dutch, all they have is cheese. They all laugh. I say to little Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon, 'Hey, ba-bee, you bring your mommy with you today? You hold her hand?" Connors laugh. This all preparation. Australians used to do it me. But Graebner and an-ee-mal Richey, they no take joke. No sense humor."