Fed Cup playoff draws Tuesday in London

The Czech Republic and the U.S., the last two Fed Cup champions, will face relegation in April.

After all four road teams won last weekend, the ITF announced the seeds for April’s World Group I and II playoff ties.

The draw will be streamed on the Fed Cup website at 7 a.m. EST Tuesday.

The Group I seeds are the Czech Republic, the U.S., Germany and Belgium. They will face Canada, Latvia, Spain or Switzerland.

In Group II, the seeds are Russia, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Slovakia. They will face Brazil, Italy, Japan or Kazakhstan.

Errani faces Bencic first time back

Sara Errani is back on the court for the first time in eight months.

And she’s not exactly easing in. The 31-year-old will open Italy’s Fed Cup tie against Switzerland against their No. 1, Belinda Bencic.

Errani served part of a doping suspension between August and October 2017, while appealing it.

The former No. 5’s ranking had dropped to No. 281 when she returned that October. She played furiously and was back at No. 72 when she had to stop for another eight months after appeals were denied.

(Update: Bencic won, 6-2, 7-5. But Errani looked surprisingly good).

Ana Konjuh back for Fed Cup

Ana Konjuh, a US Open quarterfinalist at 19 and a former junior No. 1 who won the Eddie Herr/Orange Bowl combo and singles and doubles at the Australian Open within two months, is back and playing Fed Cup.

Currently No. 547, Konjuh played her first match since Wimbledon in St. Petersburg last week. She had played just four tournaments since the 2017 US Open, after having elbow surgery for the second time.

Her career high was No. 20, a month before her second surgery.

Konjuh lost to Cagla Buyukackay in three sets Wednesday, but Croatia won its first Euro/African zonal tie 2-1.

Ostapenko struggles in Fed Cup

The 2018 season is starting off slowly for French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

At a career-high No. 6, the Latvian won one match before Petra Kvitova steamrolled her last week in St. Petersburg.

This week, she’s representing her country in Talinn, Estonia. Latvia is one of 14 countries trying to get out of the Fed Cup zonals and into the World Groups.

It started poorly. Ostapenko was beaten in three sets by Cagla Buyukakcay of Turkey (ranked No. 161) Wednesday. Ostapenko had nine double faults, and was broken seven times.

She and Anastasija Sevastova did win the deciding doubles.

L’affaire Năstase – a nasty piece of business

The first order of business here is to ask the obvious question.

In what alternate universe did the men of a certain age who tend to decide these things within tennis federations think an old fool like Ilie Năstase was a good choice to captain a Fed Cup team?

Năstase, now 70, was the president of the Romanian Tennis Federation from 1997 to 2008. But his career as the country’s Davis Cup captain – that’s the menfolk – was brief. According to the Independent, the first tie of Năstase’s captaincy followed a similar pattern – minus the misogyny and inexcusably offensive comments.

He’s never been Davis Cup captain since. There has been little in his public history to indicate that he has evolved or gained any wisdom with age. It makes him somewhat of a sad figure. Most pertinently, it makes him inappropriate Fed Cup captain material. He never again captained the men. Why would they think he’s good enough for the women?

Nastase

(Above is an excerpt from a piece in the Independent on May, 30, 1994, chronicling his excesses during that one year of his Davis Cup captaincy)

Long ago, Năstase was the greatest player in Romanian history. He was vulgar, tempestuous and offensive even then. Since then, he’s had four wives and by his own “conservative” estimate, some 800-900 conquests.

Early warning signs

Năstase was named captain last October. He took over for Alina Cercel-Tecsor, who seemed to be doing just fine but who of course didn’t have the same national profile. Really, does it surprise anyone that it took him a nanosecond to get himself in deep trouble?

In his first tie as captain in February, Năstase’s Belgian counterpart got the full treatment. Dominique Monami told Le Soir that he had insulted her. “That, as well, was a sign of weakness. I didn’t react. Năstase was there for his name, not his captain qualities, and we won,” she said.

On her blog, Monami elaborated. “I had a good introduction thanks to Ilie Năstase. A few minutes before, he told me he would never get married with me because I was not half of his age, so I used this as my introduction to break the ice, she wrote. “But we, Ilie and me, got along very well until the matches started. We got divorced a few times during the matches but finally we did shake hands.”

Captain Năstase was still on board for this weekend’s relegation tie against Great Britain.

The expected came quickly.

First press conference, first faux pas

Alina Cercel-Tecsor was Fed Cup captain – until the federation moved Nastase in, and demoted her to coach. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

First came the remark about Serena Williams which came in the background, in Romanian, as his players were asked about her baby news in English at the opening press conference. He later reportedly said on Romanian television that the remark he was joking and that if people didn’t get it, they lacked humor.

It wasn’t the only offensive remark Năstase has fired Williams’ way in the last few weeks. Late last month Năstase was quoted by a Romanian media outlet as, well, basically accusing Williams of doping, pointing to her strong, powerful physique as “evidence”.

Serena agent Jill Smoller, who rarely weighs in on Twitter, didn’t let this one pass. (Twitter)

The International Tennis Federation, which doesn’t much like to work weekends, issued this statement Friday.

“We are aware of alleged comments made by Romanian Captain Ilie Năstase and have begun an immediate investigation so that we have the full facts of the situation before taking further and appropriate action.”

(Worth noting here that Năstase is hardly the first male Fed Cup captain of a certain age to go that route; Russia’s Shamil Tarpischev blazed that trail . Other than a monetary fine and a toothless WTA ban – Tarpischev doesn’t coach a player on Tour – Tarpischev suffered few consequences. Sense a pattern?).

More faux pas

That tone-deafness continued, and intensified.

Năstase made inappropriate remarks to his opposite number, Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong, during the official dinner and again at the draw ceremony. He touched her inappropriately; he probably made her skin crawl. But in such a public place, as a British representative and ambassador of sorts in a foreign country, there was little option but for Keothavong to be diplomatic

Once the tie began on Saturday, with British No. 1 Jo Konta facing Romanian No. 2 Sorana Cirstea, it disintegrated into public embarrassment.

Was he done? Hardly. Năstase then hurled insults at a female British reporter on site to cover the tie as they were removing him from the premises.

It wasn’t his first offense with her.

Here’s what captain Keothavong and Konta said afterwards.

Came another statement from the ITF which said, in part:

“The ITF has launched an investigation into this matter as well as previous comments made by Mr. Năstase during the week.”

British captain Keothavong allud