Wimbledon bans Nastase - but what about Maria Sharapova?

Romanian not welcome after insulting British Fed Cup team, while ex-champion could return after drugs ban

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova returns to action in Stuttgart
(Image credit: Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty)

Perhaps predictably, Ilie Nastase has not reacted well to being banned from the Royal Box at Wimbledon this summer following his meltdown at the Fed Cup clash between Romania and Great Britain last month.

The International Tennis Federation took action after a series of misdemeanours, which included a racist comment about Serena Williams's unborn baby and insulting match officials and members of the British team.

Now it has been confirmed that the former player, who was often spotted in the Royal Box sporting a Romanian military uniform, will not be invited to this year's tournament, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Nastase took issue with the ban in an interview with local media in his homeland, saying the move was down to "revenge".

He also claimed Wimbledon should be grateful to him for agreeing to play in the tournament in 1973, when he was one of only a few high-profile stars to break a boycott of the championship.

"But if they are going to be so small-minded about it, there's nothing I can do," he added. "What does Wimbledon have to do with what I said about Serena and at the match in Romania?"

Nastase, who reached the finals at Wimbledon twice in the 1970s, also accused the organisers of treating Romanians like "morons" and said: "If I did something stupid at Wimbledon then I'd understand if I were then suspended. But in this case, I don't get it."

Wimbledon organisers also face a tricky decision over whether to invite Maria Sharapova to this year's tournament.

"Dancing around the hottest subject in tennis, the club chairman, Philip Brook, said a sub-committee headed by Tim Henman would decide on 20 June if she needed to be offered a wildcard, although, judging by her return from a 15-month drug ban in Stuttgart last week, when she reached the semi-finals, Sharapova might need no help," says Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian.

"Sharapova's presence or otherwise has become something of a moral dilemma for the game's authorities since her wildcard return in Stuttgart, which several players have criticised."

However, Sharapova could earn a place in qualifying or even the main draw if she performs well enough at the French Open and other tournaments before Wimbledon fortnight.

But if she doesn't, the All England Club could be under pressure to offer her a wildcard as a former champion.

Serena Williams accuses Ilie Nastase of racism

25 April

Serena Williams has accused Ilie Nastase of a "racist" attack on her and her unborn baby, joining the condemnation of the former world tennis star's behaviour during Romania's Fed Cup clash with Britain at the weekend.

In a statement on Instagram, the Wimbledon champion said: "It disappoints me to know we live in a society where people like Ilie Nastase can make such racist comments towards myself and my unborn child, and sexist comments against my peers.

"I have said it once and I'll say it again, this world has come so far but yet we have so much further to go."

Nastase, 70, has been suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and faces being banned from the royal box at Wimbledon after his series of outbursts, which also included a rant that led to his expulsion from the court as Johanna Konta took on Sorana Cirstea on Saturday.

"[He] had provoked anger during the Fed Cup pre-tie press conference with his comments about Williams, who is pregnant and taking a break from the sport," reports The Times.

Nastase was heard to say: "Let's see what colour [the baby] has. Chocolate with milk?"

Welcoming the ITF investigation, Williams also quoted US civil rights activist Maya Angelou, writing: "I am not afraid like you. You see, I am no coward. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? You may shoot me with your words… you may try to kill me with your hatefulness, but still like the air, I rise. "

The passage comes from Still I Rise, Williams's favourite work by the writer which she recorded for the BBC ahead of the 2016 Wimbledon final victory against Angelique Kerber.

Nastase, meanwhile, has remained defiant, says the Times, and accused Wimbledon of "stupid, childish revenge" by banning him from the royal box.

He has also won support from another Romanian sporting icon, reports the BBC. Gold medal-winning gymnast Nadia Comaneci said: "Ilie is very patriotic and sometimes he says things that he doesn't really mean. Everybody in Romania loves Ilie because he is Ilie."

She added: "Ilie is responsible for what comes out of his mouth and I think it is important in sport that you keep the respect and good behaviour.

"He will have to deal with it, but he can survive whatever happens to him. People make mistakes."

'Dinosaur' Ilie Nastase faces Wimbledon ban after Fed Cup disgrace

24 April

Romanian tennis icon Ilie Nastase has been suspended by the International Tennis Federation and faces being banned from attending Wimbledon this year after his "disgraceful behaviour" during the Fed Cup tie with Britain at the weekend, reports The Times.

Romania won the clash 3-2 but Nastase, the home team's 70-year-old captain dominated the headlines from start to finish.

His indiscretions included:

  • A racist joke about pregnant American star Serena Williams at the start of the weekend, wondering "what colour" her baby would be.
  • Asking married British team captain Anne Keothavong for her hotel room number as they posed for a picture before the tie began.
  • Ranting at British journalist Eleanor Crooks, calling her "stupid" for reporting his comment about Williams.
  • A courtside meltdown during Jo Konta's match against Sorana Cirstea on Saturday after the umpire warned the home crowd for shouting out during points. He was ejected from the venue after calling match referee Andreas Egli a "f***ing asshole" and shouting "f***ing bitches" at the British team.
  • Returning to the venue yesterday despite being banned and once again being ejected.
  • Declaring: "They can send me to prison if they want - I don't care... I don't need this bull***t. I'm 70 years old... I don't give a s**t if they fine me or don't let me sit in the captain's chair."

The events during the clash between Konta and Cirstea on Saturday led to a 20 minute delay in proceedings with the British number one reduced to tears, although she later recovered to win the match - Britain's only success over the weekend.

During yesterday's game against Simona Halep, Konta was subjected to more abuse from the crowd, while Cristea added to the bad blood when she claimed that Konta's tears were no more than gamesmanship.

Nastase reportedly sent flowers to the British team after the tie but "he can’t be allowed to come out of this smelling of roses", says Sean Ingle of The Guardian, who describes the former world number one as a "sneering, leering, loud, louche" thowback. "He is so unreconstructed it would be no surprise if he still wore Old Spice or sported a gold medallion."

He is a "dinosaur" agrees Simon Briggs of the Daily Telegraph. and his appointment as Fed Cup captain was an "accident waiting to happen", says Mike Dickson of the Daily Mail.

"Why put in place an ageing playboy and controversialist, known to have severely dated views about women, as the leader of your national female team...? Now he has reminded everyone of his capacity to disgrace himself."

He now faces a lengthy ban from the ITF and is unlikely to be seen in the royal box at Wimbledon in his "ludicrously inappropriate" military uniform - after being given the rank of retired major-general in the Romanian army - adds Dickson.

"The All England Club is understood to have held initial discussions this weekend about his behaviour and plans to inform him in the coming weeks that he will not be invited to the Royal Box this summer," says Stuart Fraser of the Times.

"Even if the ITF do not take further action against Nastase when they have concluded their investigation into a series of flashpoints and obscene comments, it is understood there is no prospect of a reprieve from Wimbledon."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.