Friday, November 30, 2007

U.S. Beats a Budding Billionaire in Bucharest '72

It was Bucharest, Romania, 1972, when Romanian Ion Tiriac and Stan Smith played a dramatic five-set match on tedioulsy slow, red clay courts groomed with the home team in mind. The linesman and umpire had been hand-selected by the Romanians, favoring the burly Tiriac with bad calls and allowing him to stall and take as much time as he wanted. It didn't matter, the more-talented Smith won the fifth set 6-0 and secured the cup for the U.S. At the handshake, ESPN reports that Smith said, "Ion, I will always respect you as a competitor. But I will never respect you as a man."

Tiriac, a hockey player turned tennis pro, admittedly didn't have what it took to be a top player -- he once said "I am the best tennis player who cannot play tennis" -- but had the game in the business world. When the iron curtain fell, Tiriac went onto become Romania's first billionaire. A magnate in banking and insurance and other interestes, he is the 840th richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine's ranking of the rich.

He also was a great source for quotes, saying of his infamous Davis Cup partner Ilie Nastase with whom he is pictured here, he "does not have a brain; he has a bird fluttering around in his head."