In 1972, a mild-mannered young man from Pasadena High and U.S.C. faced a Cold War Dracula on his Rumanian turf. Good vs. evil ensued. Good won.
The American gentleman
The U.S. was mired in Southeast Asia in 1972, and the Communists' were feeling pretty good about themselves.
Stan Smith was a typical Southern Californian. Tall, handsome and blonde, he was a good basketball player at Pasadena High School before spearheading U.S.C.'s tennis team to National Championships in 1966, '67 and '68.
"Stan was the kind of guy who'd play hurt," recalled legendary U.S.C. tennis coach George Toley, "That's the kind of guy he was. I never had a problem with him."
Smith did some Army duty, went on to win Wimbledon, and attain a world number one ranking.
<ital.>…"thieving linesmen…from…the local eye bank…"
The Americans were used to playing it straight, fair and square, on the up and up, because…because that is the way Americans do things. For the most part. The East Bloc, on the other hand, had learned that lying, cheating and propaganda was good business. The Rumanians, however, were led by two of the best players in the world at that time: Transylvania's Ion "Dracula" Tiriac, and the recent winner of the U.S. Open, Ilie "Nasty" Nastase.
Some left-wing apologists have tried to say that there was Communism, and then there was <ital>real<end ital> Communism. Western journalists were duped into calling Bucharest a "Balkanized Paris" featuring the works of Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway. The horrors of the Ceausescu Regime were not yet fully revealed.
Unsmiling secret police "translators" accompanied the Americans' everywhere, toting heavy weapons. The atmosphere at the Progresul Sports Club was less than congenial.
In the October 23, 1972 edition of Sports Illustrated, Curry Kirkpatrick wrote "the Rumanians, lying in wait on their home grounds with a bunch of thieving linesmen they must have recruited from the donor list at the local eye bank," were waiting for the Americans'. Like the Soviet paratrooper unit that kidnaps Larry Harvey and Frank Sinatra in "The Manchurian Candidate". What ensued was a lion's den, a snake pit, mob mentality.
John Frankenheimer should have directed it.
"The red clay surface was not to our advantage," said Smith. "We were hard court guys. What really made it tough was the Rumanians watered down the clay to slow us down. The balls got heavy."
"We should be 10-1 favorite," Nastase said.
"The U.S. players not like the soft stuff," said Tiriac. "Wait till they see ours. Godzilla <Smith>, he feel like he serving on the beach."
"The Davis Cup Committee forfeited the site of the finals to Romania for money," recalls Toley. "Stan would throw the ball up and the crowd would yell `fault.' Nastase and Tiriac would egg the people on like crazy, and if the ball hit anywhere close to the line the call went against Stan. The line judges were all for the Rumanians. Stan felt that Nastase and Tiriac did all they could to cheat."
SoCal Stan was more comfortable at the "beach" than Tiriac may have thought. After Smith crushed Nastase in the opening singles, Nasty fell apart in the crucial doubles against former Trojan Eric Van Dillen and Smith (Captain Dennis Ralston had also played at S.C.). Smith dispatched Tiriac on the final day.
Tiriac stalled, glared at umpires, sat down, refused to play, laughed, rested, fumed, delayed, and even played some marvelous tennis. He was a master of guile and deceit, playing the crowd like Hitler at Nuremberg while they chanted "TIR-I-AC," "TIR-I-AC," all the while hurling epithets at the referee. Tiriac tossed four-letter bombs at him, too. At one point he grabbed and pushed him. He was, as he loved to say of himself, "Dracula--ready to bite."
Bud Collins wrote that what was needed to defeat him was "a cross, not a racket." Only the phalanx of "translators" prevented the "fans" from attacking the Americans' when they taunted Tiriac for his antics.
Smith and Van Dillen refused to be rattled. At one point, Nasty walked to the stands to confront an American who loudly applauded Rumanian errors.
"Bitch," Nastase called him. "I pay you five dollars. You get out." By the end of the Americans' three-set victory, Nastase refused to wait for Tiriac as the teams' changed courts.
Smith defeated Tiriac (4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-0), despite being stripped clean of four different points by the line judges.
"Tiriac was the issue," said Smith. "I beat Nastase pretty easily in the first match. Against Tiriac, the referee said he wouldn't change calls. It was an alarming atmosphere, the referee was totally intimidated, not so much by the crowd but by Tiriac stoking them on, and by the soldiers' lining the court.
"I don't know how I persevered. I knew I just had to gut it out, and as the match went on the crowd made me mad, and then I was determined to win. It was a great challenge."
Good vs. evil always is.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism