FED Cup: Konta holds firm despite foul mouthed abuse from Nastase

Johanna Konta
Johanna Konta
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Eastbourne’s Johanna Konta impressively held herself together to draw Great Britain level in their Fed Cup tie with Romania.

With Konta leading Sorana Cirstea 6-2 1-2 in the second rubber in Constanta, Romania captain Ilie Nastase was thrown off the court after insulting Konta and GB captain Anne Keothavong in a row apparently about noise from the crowd.

Play was suspended one game later, with Konta in tears, but after a stoppage of around 25 minutes she returned to win five games in a row for a 6-2 6-3 victory, levelling the tie at 1-1 after Heather Watson’s loss to Simona Halep.

Romania captain Ilie Nastase was thrown out of Great Britain’s Fed Cup tie in Constanta after an extraordinary meltdown that saw him hurl foul-mouthed abuse at the British team and journalists.

Nastase was already under investigation by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after making an apparently racist comment about Serena Williams’ unborn baby at Friday’s press conference and asking British captain Anne Keothavong for her room number.

Then on Saturday, with Johanna Konta leading Sorana Cirstea 6-2 1-2 in the second rubber of the World Group II play-off, Nastase became embroiled in a row after Keothavong complained about noise from the crowd.

The 70-year-old former world number one was heard to say to umpire Jaume Campistol: “What’s your f***ing problem?” He then called Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong and Konta “f***ing bitches”.

Nastase was sent off the court by tie referee Andreas Egli, who he called a “f***ing a***hole”, and was eventually escorted out of the Tenis Club IDU by security.

Konta was visibly upset by the incident and play was suspended for around 20 minutes after the world number seven cried throughout the next game and dropped serve.

The 25-year-old recovered her composure and reeled off five straight games on the resumption to win 6-2 6-3, leaving the tie level at 1-1 at the end of day one after Simona Halep had beaten Heather Watson 6-4 6-1 in the opening rubber.

Before play started, Nastase had confronted Press Association Sport tennis correspondent Eleanor Crooks about the reporting of his behaviour on Friday, repeatedly calling her stupid.

As he left the premises, he called another British reporter stupid and then took exception to Ms Crooks filming him.

Nastase was restrained by security as he confronted Ms Crooks, swearing at her before being led away to a waiting car.

The ITF, which runs the Fed Cup, is investigating Nastase’s conduct on both Friday and Saturday and confirmed his accreditation had been removed.

President David Haggerty said: “This is unacceptable behaviour by a Fed Cup captain. No player, official, member of the media or fan should have to endure any kind of abuse, and Mr Nastase will rightly play no further part in this tie.”

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) will make an official complaint after the tie, with chief executive Michael Downey saying the governing body was “deeply shocked” by Nastase’s behaviour.

Downey added the LTA’s priority was the welfare of Keothavong and Konta.

Keothavong said: “We expected a patriotic crowd for the Romanian team but we don’t expect abusive language to be used.

“What Ilie said to the umpire and referee, you can ask them. It was enough for him to be warned and then to be disqualified.

“But what he said to both Johanna and myself, it’s not something I am going to repeat because it’s language that is not appropriate for anyone to speak to any other human in that particular way, and it’s not what we’ve come here for.”

Konta was targeted by the 1,700-strong crowd after Nastase’s removal, and she added: “It was just unfortunate that I think the crowd took initiative from the Romanian captain’s behaviour. The abusive language of everybody who was there, it kind of snowballed quite frankly.

“Once you promote something like that, it gives courage to a lot of people to think it’s okay.”

Keothavong felt Nastase could have been banned before the match for his previous behaviour.

Having asked for her room number at the official dinner on Thursday, Nastase repeated the demand in front of the media while the pair posed for pictures, putting his arm tightly around the 33-year-old, who is married and 18 weeks pregnant with her second child.

Keothavong said: “I was put in a very awkward situation and it was uncomfortable for me. It’s not what you expect to hear, no woman should be expected to listen to that or hear that or be told that.

“Given previous history, I don’t want to point direct blame at anyone, but maybe it could have been pre-empted. Maybe he shouldn’t have been put in the position that he was.”

Cirstea fanned the flames further by accusing Konta of gamesmanship and claiming the world number seven should have put up with the treatment she received.

Cirstea, ranked 62, said: “I did not hear what Ilie said. I understand you take Ilie out, perfect. Then we play another game, I win it, and then suddenly you started crying and let’s go off the court.

“And then when she comes back on court she says, ‘I’m sorry’, so she knew she exaggerated. You don’t do this, you stay and play.

“And the public was okay. They didn’t do anything. And now they say they feel threatened. Everyone was so nice, we treated you guys so nice. I don’t feel it’s right that you put all this on us because we’re a lower country than England.”

Nastase faces heavy censure from the ITF and will almost certainly lose the captaincy, which was under threat following his remark about Williams and behaviour towards Keothavong.

Nastase was heard to say while Halep was answering a question about Williams’ pregnancy: “Let’s see what colour it has. Chocolate with milk?”

But Halep, Cirstea and Romanian federation president George Cosac all offered him support, saying he had merely been joking.

“He didn’t make any mistakes,” said Cosac. “It was not racist - you just have to ask him. He will tell you exactly the way he said.

“It was just a joke - that’s Nastase. Everybody knows him in the world. He was all the time with a lot of jokes. That’s why everybody likes him.”

Ms Crooks had earlier been singled out by Nastase when he stormed into the venue’s press room to complain about the reporting of Friday’s comments. She was the only member of the British media present at the time.

Ms Crooks said: ‘’He repeatedly called me stupid, asked me why what he said was racist.

‘’I explained we simply reported what he said and that it was unnecessary to make such a comment about colour. He said the English were out to get him and called me stupid a few more times.

‘’Fortunately he was across the other side of the room from me and there were other journalists around so it was unpleasant rather than threatening.”

Of the later incident outside the venue, Ms Crooks added: “This time he was quite aggressive and I’m glad the security were there to stop him getting any closer.”