KEIR RADNEDGE in DOHA —- Ilie Nastase is perplexed. It’s not only that there is still a need for the anti-racism campaign which takes him around the world; it’s the popular belief that tennis players as star-dusted as he was in his era need a coach.
The Romanian whose tempestuous demand for respect earned players the right to be addressed as “Mr” by umpires, had drifted into the topic from an assessment of Andy Murray.
“Any other time,” says Nastase, on the sidelines of the Doha Goals Forum*, “and Murray is No1 in the world. For a long time. But what can he do? There is Djokovic and Nadal and Federer. Tough for him.”
Not for 68-year-old Nastase the old pro’s delusion that his days were better since he has seen all the modern greats down the years. Not only them, either.
As Nastase reminds anyone intrigued enough to offer a prompt, he came into tennis when Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were enjoying their last hurrah following the unifying of the shamateur and professional circuits.
“You cannot compare players from different times,” says Nastase before contradicting himself and observing that he never knew any player like Jimmy Connors for sheer, cussed, driven, single-minded determination to win every point at any stage of any match whatever the state of play.
Nastase, former world No1 and with more than 100 tour titles to his name, admires the focus of today’s superstars and has no reservations about the fitness issues which occasionally take Nadal out of the tour.
“Look at what he has to do,” says Nastase. “He is such a great player so that means he plays a final on a Sunday, gets on a plane on a Monday and starts a tournament all over again from the first round on a Tuesday.
“Nobody can do that all the time, week to week, month to month, year to year.”
Thus the focus of discussion chips from Nadal to Murray, reclaiming fitness, form and focus after significant back surgery last year and the split with coaching guru Ivan Lendl.
Nastase, whose career was just ending when Lendl came along, is one man reluctant to credit the Czech-American with a popularly-perceived mystic magic which transformed Murray from Nearly Man to Olympic, US and Wimbledon champion.
“I don’t know what Lendl had to do with it,” says Nastase. “In fact I don’t understand what a coach does for any of these players. Who can tell Djokovic what to do better? Or Nadal? Or Murray?
“For me, I think maybe it is just about having a friendly face up in the players’ box, knowing there is at least one person up there who wants you to win.
“I mean, look at it this way: Who does Federer have up there? His wife. That’s enough.”
** Doha Goals Forum took place from Nov 3-5 at Aspire in Qatar
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