When we hosted Romania, Ilie Nastase was at his peak. He was the world No. 2 and would go on to become the No. 1 the following year. Between 1971 and 1974, he won the Masters Cup four times, and also won the US Open (1972) and the French Open (1973).
Ion Tiriac was no less a player and formed a formidable doubles team with Nastase.
I lost to Nastase in the opening singles. But Premjit (Lall) played well to beat Tiriac to make it 1-1. Doubles was a close affair. It was one set each and we were leading 6-5 in the third set when play was called off due to bad light on the second day.
Unfortunately the next morning we both woke up with flu. It was a virus attack but those days they did not call it viral fever. They won the first three games when the match resumed. That gave them the set and they won the next set easily. Had we won that second set, probably the end result would have been different.
Due to inclement weather, the tie went into the fourth day. I conceded my reverse singles because of illness. It was very unfortunate. It was the only time I ever got sick during a Davis Cup tie.
Premjit played one of his best matches against Tiriac. The scoreline would suggest it was a close match, but I can tell you that he was at his best. I didn’t watch much of the first set as I was in the dressing room, still depressed about my loss (to Nastase). But I watched the rest of the match and I can tell you that the level Premjit played was on a par with the form he displayed when he led 2-0 against Rod Laver at Wimbledon.
Tiriac was up to his usual gamesmanship. Both Nastase and Tiriac were known around the world for this. Nobody really liked them in the locker room. Unlike the Australians or the Americans, who were friendly, they lacked sporting spirit. And those days, there were no point penalties or fines. They stretched the rules.
Tiriac in particular enjoyed a good rapport with the head of the state, Nicolae Ceaus,escu. The Italian referee for the tie was having a tough time. Watching from the stands, the then All India Tennis Association president, R.K. Khanna, asked the Romanian ambassador who was sitting next to him: “Why can’t you control him a bit?” To which, the ambassador replied: “I would lose my job if I try to do that.”
When we visited them in 1969, Nastase was an upcoming player. I was also not too bad a player on clay. If Ramanathan Krishnan is the best claycourt player India has ever produced, I would put my name next to him on that list. Remember, I reached the Round of 16 at the French Open!
But Romania in Romania is always a tall order. We have to win the doubles because we stand very little chance in singles. They are brought up on red clay. But you never really know! If Somdev (Devvarman) can win his singles, it would give us a chance. I will be pleasantly surprised if we win.