Monday, January 30, 2017

Sure Could Have Fooled Me!

Ille Nastase was the only player to get a set off John McEnroe in the 1979 US Open. It was the first Grand Slam the 20-year old won. The match against Nastase is coming up on 40 years elapsed. But no one will ever forget it.

Ille was past his prime. He was 33 years old (And not a Ken Rosewall or Roger Federer at that age). Nastase had last finished a year in the top 10 in 1977. Clearly he wasn't going to beat the home kid in this match with 64 players left in the draw. Johnny Mac had beaten Pavel Slozil in the first round, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. But fireworks lay ahead in round two.

McEnroe didn't cause them.

McEnroe won the first set 6-4. Nastase took the second by the same score. Okay, what's the problem?

Nastase, that is.

Ille was trying to hold off the inevitable!

By stalling.

That was enough for chair umpire Frank Hammond. He defaulted Ille. But soon, Frank found himself overruled (And removed!) by tournament referee Bill Talbert. Mike Blanchard, no stranger to Ille's behaviour tactics, took over. The match resumed. So did McEnore's brilliant tennis. The last two sets were John's 6-3, 6-2.

Not only had it all calmed down, but McEnore's brilliant tennis had nothing in his way from there on in. John Lloyd was walked over in the next round. Tom Gorman fell 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in the round of 16. The quarters saw Eddie Dibbs default after just three games of play.

Jimmy Connors, the defending champion (And winner in 1974 and 1976) was next. No problem. 6-3, 6-3, 7-5. The set scores were then in the reverse order in the finals against Vitas Gerulatis, who stopped Roscoe Tanner from his second-straight grand slam finals appearance in the semis (Beating Bjorn Borg on the the way). McEnroe won this all-American finals, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.

Buoyed by his first Grand Slam, McEnroe took off from there. He had some heartbreak against Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon Finals, but took out the Swede in five sets in the US Open finals later that year. And he beat him in both the 1981 Wimbledon and US finals. Johnny Mac had arrived!

Yet oddly enough, despite impressive wins over Chris Lewis and Jimmy Connors at the Wimbledon Finals of both 1983 and 1984, John McEnroe's 1979 US Open victory was more remarkable in my opinion. Never before had he been in a US Open final. Never before had been in any grand slam final. By comparison, Ille had finished second at Rolland Garros to Jan Kodes in 1971.

And in a way, he was having some of his own tactics used against him (Not in the form of any tennis strokes, mind you) by Ille. Obviously, McEnore was the better player at that time, as I've mentioned earlier. But winning your first slam is open the toughest. John, no doubt, wanted this as well as a Wimbledon. And while the latter was two years away, John made sure to win his home event an impressive four times. Ille won it himself way back in 1972.

Nastase continued on (And we can only imagine what his behaviour was like) playing after the 1979 charade. He'd been disqualified many times in his career, but at this point, perhaps he had some leverage. He did not appear to ever accomplish anything else the rest of his playing days, which ended in the mid-1980s. He was nearly out of the top 50 by the end of '79, and never got higher than 79 in the decade to come. McEnroe pounded him into oblivion in their next three matches, not matter what Nastase did (Or didn't) do, 6-1, 6-4 in Milan in 1980, 6-0, 6-3 at the WCT Challenge Cup in Canada later that year. Finally, John beat him four years later, in 1984 in the Davis Cup Tie between United States And Romania. Not even close: 6-2, 6-4, 6-2! Their final head-to-head tally, if it matters, was 6-3 for Johhny Mac!

And McEnroe had perhaps been in a giving mood in 1979. Never again.

"Don't try and be like me, Ille!"


Collins, Bud, and Zander Hollander. Bud Collins' Tennis Encyclopedia. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1997. Print.

Haylett, John, and Richard Evans. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Tennis. New York: Exeter, 1989. Print.

Infosys, FedEx, Peugeot, and LeSports. "Official Site of Men's Professional Tennis | ATP World Tour | Tennis." ATP World Tour. Emirates. Web. 30 Jan 2017.  <>

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