Nastase's American agent, Bill Riordan, promoter of an independent U.S. indoor circuit and a staunch enemy of Hunt, had advised his star not to join WCT. Furthermore, after Riordan's urging (widely criticized by those interested in seeing him play against the best), Nastase recently again turned down a chance to play the WCT circuit this coming season. On the weaker tour he will, of course, make good money, win his share of tournaments and not have to extend himself day in and day out. But is Nastase copping out?
"With the peace settlement and all the contracts drying up, Ilie would be a fool to go WCT now," says Ashe. "Except he'll have to live with himself knowing he's doing it the easy way and not proving anything."
But Nastase has his own reasons and—for the moment—some patience. "I just know it not very nice put pressure on me all time to join WCT," he says. "It's just winter I am not playing against best players. I play them in big ones still—Italy, Paris, Forest Hills, Wimbledon. Is enough. I don't want play so many good men right in row. Is tough. Winning big tournaments only way to prove something anyway. What means I win WCT in Oslo? Nobody ever hear of that.
"This is another class of players we talking about, babee. Laver, whew. Rosewall, whew. Even if I beat them, still there is something more special they have over me and other guys. I not have enough to be like them. I really feel this difference—I played them and I know.
"I have now arrived to approach the great ones. Can beat many aces of tennis. For them my victories not any more such great surprise. Laver knows everything, though, equally great in all aspects. Missing ball doesn't bother him a bit even though he may want to break racket in his hand. Myself, I cannot control. I feel blood rising to my head when I miss one. If I am to beat Laver and the rest I need to hit ball better and control my blood. Listen, babee. Why should I play WCT without guarantee now? I doing fine the way it is. I would not always get seed in WCT. Then what happens if I draw Laver second round couple of times, or maybe Newcombe? I no eat. I feel this way about contracts. When their contracts expire, I not believe Laver and Rosewall play without guarantees, either. I wait while for to get better. I want year. Maybe then I play whole time."
Quickness and daring, creative shot selection, and a backhand topspin passing bullet that is nearly impossible to return mark Nastase's technique. But he seems to be on the threshold of something more. Tennis being a game of mistakes, the power players—Kramer, Gonzales, Laver—have always used the big serve and volley to force opponents into errors that were made while trying to keep the power subdued.
Nastase's ability makes possible an entirely different scheme. "It's a new idea," says Kramer. "He is so fast and passes on the run so well that he gets the power guy at the net thinking he's got to hit supervolleys every time or else Nasty will run them down and pass him. Players aren't willing to be careful with him; they think they have to hit winners all the time. He forces a lot of errors just by being so quick."
There is nothing classical about the style. Nastase has never hit the ball hard. And rarely has he ever hit it on balance. Like most Europeans, he was brought up on clay and taught to just get the ball into play on service and then start the point from there. He has a tendency to serve "lollipops" but the ball is thrown up in such a way (far out front of his body) and the racket motion is such a quick last-second flick of the wrist that his serve becomes very difficult to follow. Ashe concedes it takes him a very long time in a match before he picks up Nastase's serve coming off the racket; Tom Gorman, who has never beaten the Rumanian, says he has yet to pick it up.
On defense Nastase is just as deceptive. He receives service far behind the baseline and is actually retreating (rather than advancing) as he hits the ball. His returns and ground strokes, struck again from far out front, are mostly top-spin and they float on occasion, making him susceptible to a solid volley game. Nevertheless, opponents seem unwilling to crowd him enough or close in hard because his ability to turn off-balance gets into passing winners.
"He may not look it, but he's quicker than Okker. He's quicker than anybody," says Fred Stolle. "And it's not scrambling. The guy never scrambles. It's not much anticipation, either. It's just all zoom. He doesn't seem to be trying. He doesn't do much on the volley, either. Then all of a sudden he's there. He's always there."