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On This Date in Sports August 30, 1979: Getting Nasty with Nastase

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Sparks fly in a second-round match at the US Open Ilie Nastase of Romania and American John McEnroe. Nastase the 1972 US Open Champion had argued with chair umpire Frank Hammond, losing a game before defaulting the match. As fans littered the court with debris, referee Mike Blanchard reinstated Nastase and dismissed Hammond, sitting in the chair himself. McEnroe would win the match in four sets 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on the way to winning the tournament.

John McEnroe was born February 16, 1959, on Air Force base in West Germany. After his father returned to the United State after his service time was over, he settled in Queens not too far from the National Tennis Center in Flushing that was hosting the US Open for the second time in 1979. McEnroe was a rising star as the 1970s came to an end, known for his outburst and aggressive play. He entered the US Open as the three seed that year, looking to make his mark.

Ilie Nastase was born in Bucharest on July 19, 1946. A one-time star out of Romania, who had been ranked as high as second in the world after beating Arthur Ashe in five sets to win the 1972 US Open, Nastase was on the decline in 1979 as he dropped out of the tennis rankings.

The first two rounds were highly competitive between the veteran and the rising star, as John McEnroe took the first set 6-4, while Ilie Nastase took the second by the same score. In the third set is when trouble began as Nastase began confronting chair umpire, Frank Hammond. Hammond first warned Nastase to continue to play and then docked him a game for continuing the argument. Fans began to get restless, leading referee Mike Blanchard to threaten to halt the nighttime match. Nastase continued to argue with Hammond, leading him to declare the match in favor of McEnroe. Fans nearly rioted as the chair umpire appeared to the only one throwing a tantrum. Blanchard returned and reinstated Nastase, taking over as chair umpire. John McEnroe unshaken by the shenanigans would easily win the next two sets 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the third round.

John McEnroe would go on to cruise into the semifinals, where he faced defending champion Jimmy Connors, who had been to the US Open Finals in each of the last five tournaments. This would mark a changing of the guard in Flushing, as the hometown hero won in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 7-5. John McEnroe would also win the Finals over Vitas Gerulatis in straight sets 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 to claim his first major championship. McEnroe would win the next three US Open Championships, adding a fourth title in 1984.