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When the Davis Cup Came in From the Cold

Rain pelting its windows, an Air France jet arrived in Bucharest, Romania, in early October 1972. Two dozen men waited below. They wore leather jackets and shouldered machine guns, and some had knives strapped to their ankles.

The greeting party befitted a head of state or a political prisoner. In this case, the security detail was shepherding the United States Davis Cup team.

The 1972 Davis Cup finals were an epic drama. Tennis historians consider it one of the best Cup matches. But they evinced something grander, an event bathed in geopolitics, with hints of intrigue. It is a moment somewhat lost in history, its context (including an apparent cameo by President Richard M. Nixon) not fully illuminated.

Six weeks before the match, the world had watched on television as Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 members of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics. The next big international sporting event was the Davis Cup in Romania, a country friendly to the Palestinians, and the Americans had two Jewish players.

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Even before the Munich attack, Ralston said he had been warned not to take the team to Romania by Neale Fraser, the coach of Australia's Davis Cup team, which played in Bucharest in the summer of 1972. Fraser told Ralston that his match had been stolen by partisan line calls and cheating.

"You can't win because they won't let you," Ralston recalled Fraser telling him. "You have no idea what you're getting into."

But much bigger forces were propelling the United States toward Bucharest. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Romania and the United States had a cautious alliance that was crucial during the cold war. The United States saw Romania, and its leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, as a wedge to split the Soviet bloc. Ceausescu had shown himself independent of the Soviet Union by refusing to join other Eastern bloc countries in severing diplomatic ties with Israel after the Six Day War in 1967. A year later, he did not support the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. a year later, the first Eastern European country to do so.

Another hint of the diplomatic stakes came from a series of phone calls, said Sigrid Draper, who then had close ties to the White House. Through her work in the Republican Party, she had become friends with Michelle Smith Chotiner, the wife of a close Nixon aide, Murray Chotiner.

After the attacks in Munich, Draper said, Bob Kelleher, an acquaintance and Nixon appointed federal judge who had been captain of the 1963 United States Davis Cup team and the president of the tennis association from 1967 to 1968, called her to say the Davis Cup team was worried about its Jewish players. Draper, in turn, contacted Murray Chotiner.

Whether Nixon actually placed the call is tough to verify. But several members of Nixon's national security team at the time said that it was as likely as not. Denis Clift, who in 1971 joined the National Security Council staff, said he had no direct knowledge but he could see the logic behind such a move. how much is a hermes handbag "This is a positive move of a pawn on the chess table," Clift said. "He's calling Ceausescu saying: classic hermes bags fake 'We can have a win win. I can have my people go over, and you can guarantee nothing can happen.'"

Two Fiery Romanians

The Davis Cup is a best of five contest with four singles matches, featuring each team's two top singles players, and one doubles match. The Romanians used only two players: the graceful and mercurial Ilie Nastase, a 26 year old playboy and the reigning United States Open champion, and the cunning brawler Ion Tiriac, a member of the country's 1964 Olympic hockey team.

Nastase and Tiriac, national heroes and clay court experts, each played two singles matches, and they teamed up for doubles. They had won the 1970 French Open doubles title on clay. "Tennis for us, at least for Nastase and I, was our life," Tiriac said in an e mail dictated to his personal assistant.

For the Americans, Smith, who had defeated Nastase three months earlier to win Wimbledon, was a lock to play singles and doubles. "I didn't want him to go out there thinking someone might potshot him."

To the crowd's chants of "Ti ri ac!" he won in five sets.

The referee was Enrique Morea of Argentina, an impartial official with the power to correct clear mistakes. Morea said that the cheating was the worst he had ever seen and that the linesmen "saw whatever Tiriac wanted."

In the locker room at Club Sportiv Progresul after the match, Van Dillen argued that the team should go home. imitiaton hermes bags Then came a made for television moment starring Solomon. "Come on, guys," Solomon recalled saying.

"The Romanians had a mixture of pride, and apprehension, hope and despair, the whole mix of Balkan emotions," Jonathan Rickert, the consul in the United States Embassy at the time, said in a recent interview.

Toma Ovici, a member of the Romanian team before and after the 1972 finals, said the Davis Cup bewitched Bucharest. When Nastase lost to Smith, said Ovici, who watched from the stands, "people were looking for Nastase's car to burn it."

In the next day's doubles match, the Americans took only 68 minutes to win in straight sets, with Van Dillen fake hermes leather handbags having what Smith and others said was the match of his life. And so the Americans led the Davis Cup, 2 1, heading into the final day's singles matches: Smith vs. Tiriac and Nastase vs. Gorman.

The stage was set for a tense day.

Polar opposites in style and temperament, Smith, a breezy surfer boy Californian, and the combative Tiriac, black Brillo pad hair on his wrecking ball size head, played a whopper. Tiriac won the first set, Smith the next two, then Tiriac won the fourth, using all his tricks. When Tiriac served long but Smith hit a winner, the linesman called Tiriac's serve in and Smith's return out. "I got two bad calls on the same point," Smith said, acknowledging, "This is when I was finally going nuts."

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By zroessgs viesoess
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