There were extraordinary scenes at Constanta’s Tennis Club IDU on Saturday as Romanian Fed Cup captain Ilie Nastase was ejected from the venue for unsportsmanlike conduct, firing four-letter tirades at all and sundry as he left.
Nastase had originally lost his temper with chair umpire Jaume Campistol, after he warned the Romanian crowd that they might be docked points if they continued to call “out” during rallies. But as the argument escalated, he twice shouted “----ing bitches” at the British captain Anne Keothavong and her No. 1 player Johanna Konta.
Nastase’s fury was soon being reflected by further foul-mouthed heckling from the Romanian fans, some of whom may have been especially ill-disposed towards Konta because of her Hungarian background. One game after Nastase’s ejection, play had to be suspended for 20 minutes because Konta was in tears.
At that point, the International Tennis Federation would have been within their rights to hand Konta victory by default. Fortunately, she was able to regroup, and came back out to conclude a 6-2, 6-3 victory over her opponent Sorana Cirstea. But that only provoked an outcry from the Romanian team, as Cirstea suggested that Konta had been exaggerating her distress in order to halt play when she was behind.
The fall-out from these astonishing events will be ongoing. In the short term, Nastase has had his accreditation for the tie revoked and faces further sanctions that are sure to include a lengthy ban.
"This is unacceptable behaviour by a Fed Cup captain,” said the International Tennis Federation president David Haggerty. “No player, official, member of the media or fan should have to endure any kind of abuse, and Mr Nastase will rightly play no further part in this tie. A formal investigation is already underway and any decision or sanction will be made by the ITF's Adjudication Panel. We are unable to comment further on an ongoing investigation."
As for the Romanian and British teams, they will resume on Sunday with the tie poised at one win apiece – Heather Watson had earlier lost to Simona Halep in an relatively uneventful opening match – and the likelihood of bad blood. Until the final press conference of the day, the trouble had been confined to Nastase himself, but Cirstea’s intervention will surely have changed that.
My second run-in with Ilie Nastase. He then called me ugly off camera, just for good measure pic.twitter.com/pt2begOpTx— Eleanor Crooks (@EleanorcrooksPA) April 22, 2017
“If you want to stop the match, stop it at 2-1 [when Nastase was ejected], not at 3-1 when Johanna starts crying,” said Cirstea. “And then when she comes back on court she says, ‘I'm sorry,’ so she knew she exaggerated.”
Always prone to furious outbursts, Nastase clearly arrived in a particularly edgy mood on Saturday because he was already facing an ITF investigation for his behaviour at Friday’s draw ceremony. He had managed to come up with both racist and sexist comments, first by suggesting that Serena Williams’s unborn baby will come out coloured like “chocolate with milk”, and then by asking Keothavong for her room number.
“I was put in a very awkward situation [on Friday] and it was uncomfortable for me,” Keothavong said on Saturday. “No woman should be expected to listen to that.”
Before the tennis had even started on Saturday, Nastase had accosted one British journalistwho reported those comments, repeatedly calling her “stupid”. He used the same word when the Sunday Telegraph asked him why he had been ejected from the court, saying “Because of what you wrote yesterday, you stupid, stupid…” Had he not been restrained by security as he left the building, it seemed likely that he would have assaulted the visiting media.