Doing the Nasty

Who's that with Bubba? A fellow memoirist—and Wimbledon bad boy—returns

Both on and off the court, Nastase became ever more social. On it, he partnered with Pablo Casals's distant relative Rosie (whom he called "Rose Butt") until, at the 1979 U.S. Open, he switched mixed-doubles partners for the game's first professional transsexual, Dr. Renée Richards. He launched himself into the failed venture of Team Tennis. (He played for the Hawaii Leis, before transferring to the Los Angeles Strings, the greatest rivals to Billie Jean King's Philadelphia Freedom—for whom Elton John, a rabid tennis fan, wrote the song of the same name.) Off the court, he went to lots of parties. At Studio 54 (during the U.S. Open), he became friends with Warhol ("he asked me if I wanted to do a shoot for him, but stupidly I never found the time"), Bianca Jagger, and the ex-wife of Canada's prime minister, Margaret Trudeau ("As well as going out with Mick Jagger, Margaret also spent a couple of nights with me"). While he gradually became less successful on court, he remained every bit as popular off. He moved to Monte Carlo, shot the film Players (with Ali MacGraw and Dean Martin's tennis-playing son Dino), and went bowling with Prince Albert of Monaco.

Nastase retired in 1984, and, as was to be expected, became depressed ("My level of desperation was such that I even started to like American football"). He thought about becoming a coach, but then decided it wasn't for him ("You have to travel, wake up with the guy, go to practice with him, eat at the same time as him, then you get fired if he doesn't win"). And so he looked for other occupations. That same year, he broke out of his depression and recorded a French single, "Globetrotter Lover," which cheered him up by going to number two in the French pop charts ("I know there's not too much competition in France, but still"). He then wrote two novels in French (which he nowhere mentions in his memoirs), which made interesting beach reading for French travelers in the summers of 1985 and 1986. To give the non-Francophone reader an idea: In Tie-Break ("adapted from the Transylvanian," as the title page indicates), a savvy American detective is brought to Roland Garros to investigate a mysterious on-court death (due, as it turns out, to a fatal mixture of aphrodisiacs and the sporting superdrug "HBO-10"). He follows the players to Wimbledon, where there is an even more mysterious death, and to the U.S. Open, where he at last uncovers an unbalanced Canadian pro who has hired a hit man to kill the tour's Borg-like hero at the moment he is to accept the victor's trophy (the Borg stand-in is so good that the Canadian simply assumes he will win). As fate would have it, the rabid Canadian himself wins the U.S. Open—and in his excitement forgets about the hit man he hired until it is too late. After Tie-Break and its follow-up, The Net, Nastase settled into a life of sedate luxury, hobnobbing with everyone from Jean-Paul Belmondo to fellow memoirist Bill Clinton. He ran for mayor of Bucharest in 1996, lost narrowly, and per his usual reaction, refused ever to have anything to do with politics again. He is now in his third marriage, has a large family and lots of friends, and, like everybody, tries to be happy.

Nastase played at Wimbledon from 1966 to 1982, reaching two finals and only missing two years (because of injuries). He will be there again this year, and as ever, no one knows how he will behave—not even Nastase himself. As his motto goes, "My ambition is to do a good job. I never plan anything."

Leland de la Durantaye is an assistant professor of English and American literature and language at Harvard University.

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