What reception will the Czech public give the Spanish players this weekend in Prague? Probably a very warm welcome, and certainly nothing to compare with the "anti-sports monument" witnessed there 40 years ago when the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas stopped in Bucharest. On the 13th, 14th and 15th of October 1972, the Romanians provided a nightmare weekend to the Americans.
An army of Romanian spectators drunk with excitement, line judges not daring to even announce the faults, an American team still in shock from the massacre at the Munich Olympics that just taken place a few days earlier... Never before had the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, this old lady of 112 years, ever experienced such a crazy final. October 1972, and in a super-charged Bucharest, playing host to a major sporting event for the first time, Ilie Nastase and Ion Tiriac, the brilliant-but-politically-incorrect heroes of a whole country, came very close to breaking the superiority of the United States, unbeaten since 1967. The latter, led by Stan Smith, the defending Wimbledon champion, and Tom Gorman, semi-finalist at the U.S. Open a month earlier, snatched a 3-2 victory. But here the result doesn't matter much; the important thing is how it happened. In a country that barely counted 5000 registered players at the time, "it was 1000 miles away from the gentleman’s tennis which was the rule everywhere" wrote the press, who described it as "an anti-sports monument" during which "the Cup Davis reminded everybody of the darkest hours of the European Cup football or rugby." no less!
He moaned on the seat of a linesman
Broadcast at the time on television the meeting was impossible to commentate on. Behind the microphone for French television, Christian Quidet was struggling to find the words to describe the atmosphere in Bucharest. "The referee doesn't know where or how to intervene. Ralston, the American captain no longer dares to complain about a few blatant refereeing mistakes for fear of exacerbating the situation. The Americans, who have never played a game in these conditions, are absolutely exhausted with heat and noise" he wrote later in his “Fabulous History of Tennis”. If all the matches were played out in an indescribable smoky haze, somewhere between the Glastonbury festival and a strange countryside atmosphere, THE most uproarious match of those three days was undoubtedly the one which saw the victory, on the first day, of the good old Ion Tiriac (and his improbable forehand) on the spirited Tom Gorman (and his effective serve-volley game). An even better actor than player, Tiriac, master-thief on the courts and who has become today one of the richest businessmen in the world, was in the referee’s face on every point. More talkative than Woody Allen in Annie Hall, the Romanian engaged in endless discussions as soon as a ball was close to the line to break his opponent’s rhythm. At the end of the fourth set, he sulked for six minutes (!) sat on the seat of a linesman, categorically refusing to resume playing.
"I lost the esteem I had for you"
Returning home, Stan Smith, the impeccable leader of the American team - and the man behind the famous shoes - gave a lesson to two naughty brats: "I lost the esteem I had for you. I still respect you as a player, but not as a man." Tom Gorman wondered: "At home, I have always thought that the audience wasn't supporting us enough. Now I wonder if I still want them to." Eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth… The following year, during a "return" match, the American public gave a glacial “welcome” to Nastase in Alamo. They even had to interrupt the game to beg the public to be courteous. The story of the dog that got bitten.
By Julien Pichené