Nasty – More Than Just Tennis Review: How Ilie Nastase Shook Up the Sport

Bringing the Icon's Career Passionately to Life

The swashbuckling tennis star Ilie Năstase was a true original who left his mark on the sport in indelible ways. Nasty: More Than Just Tennis breathes life into Năstase’s epic story through a treasure trove of archival clips and recollections from those who knew him best. Directors Tudor Giurgiu, Cristian Pascariu, and Tudor Popescu piece together the riveting rise of this charismatic Romanian who broke conventions and broke hearts on the courts of the 1970s.

Born in Bucharest in 1946, Năstase picked up a racket at a young age and was fast becoming a sensation across Europe. He formed a formidable doubles partnership with Ion Iriac, who dominated opponents with their contrasting styles. But it was in singles where Năstase’s true genius flourished. Footage shows his balletic athleticism and ability to retrieve seemingly impossible shots were unlike anything tennis had seen. His flair and imagination completely redefined what the sport could be.

Off the court, Năstase was just as formidable a force. With his locks, looks, and larrikin antics, he became as much of a rock star as an athlete. Năstase relished taunting crowds and opponents alike with his tempests of swearing, fist pumping, and mental games.

While his behavior infuriated some, most simply adored “Nasty” for the thrill and rebellion he brought. As players, officials, and journalists reminisced in the film, he also had an incredible warm heart beneath the spectacle. Năstase left an era and opened tennis up to an entirely new audience with his unique and lasting legacy.

Rousing Rebel: How Năstase Electrified Tennis

Ilie Năstase brought a spark of rebellion to tennis in the wild 1970s. With athleticism unlike anything the sport had seen, he thrilled crowds across the globe on his rise to the top. But it was his personality, as fiery as his game, that truly stirred the pot.

Năstase played with a balletic flair, retrieving seemingly lost shots from absurd angles. Archive clips show just how far ahead of his time he was—floating like a feather one moment, unleashing laser-like winners the next. He won the US Open in 1972 and rose to world number one, dominating rivals with his unique blend of finesse and ferocity.

Yet it was when opening his mouth that Năstase really turned heads. On court, he relished riling up opponents and audiences alike. Sledging in multiple languages with bombastic glee, he kicked up more than a racket. Swearing, shouting, and generally carrying on in a way tennis had seldom seen, Năstase bent the stuffy norms of the elitist sport to his whims.

Some found him insufferable, like Arthur Ashe, who once strode off mid-match. But spectators simply adored the anarchic antics of their “Nasty.” In a rowdy era when sports were less corporate, they lapped up the dramatic theatrics as much as his shot-making. With his looks and larger-than-life persona, Năstase became as much of an entertainer as an athlete.

By energizing the fans and single-handedly making tennis fun, he packed stadiums and truly popularized the game. In Năstase, viewers saw a rule-breaker bursting with passion and panache, unlike the staid champions before him. He was a man who played as boldly as he talked, redefining tennis as more than a genteel country sport but a spectacle of skill, spirit, and splendor.

Trailblazing Rebel

When Ilie Nastase burst onto the scene in the wild 70s, tennis was in need of a shakeup. As the flashy Romanian tore up courts around the world, he left an enduring mark on the sport.

Nasty – More Than Just Tennis Review

Nastase’s skill was undeniable. His catlike reflexes and daring shot-making dazzled crowds. But it was his infectious exuberance, good looks, and trash-talking antics that truly galvanized fans. He stirred up matches with explosive outbursts, lashing out at officials in multiple languages. His behavior scandalized some, but audiences lapped it up.

By infusing excitement and drama into every rally, Nastase packed stadiums that had once held only the elite. He made tennis fun for the masses and brought it to a new audience. “He helped turn tennis pro and make it the business it became,” remarks one interviewee. This rebel thus ushered in tennis’ modern, money-spinning era.

Of course, some saw Nastase’s ways as disrespectful. But his peers knew it came from a place of passion, not malice. “That’s just how Nasty was,” they say fondly. His disregard for rigid etiquette also forced the sport’s hand. Rules of conduct were tightened to control players’ volatility.

Today, tennis greats still speak of Nastase with admiration. “He was so talented and had such a big heart,” says one. His renegade trailblazing may have ruffled feathers, but it undeniably turbocharged the game. Ilie Nastase was tennis’ original rockstar, and his imprint lives on in the millions who found the sport through his showmanship. He didn’t just play; he revolutionized.

Many Faces of Nasty

This documentary paints Ilie Nastase as one of tennis’s most colorful icons. Through archival matches and glowing testimonies from legends like McEnroe and King, he shines as a trailblazing talent with a big heart.

But while friends’ anecdotes bring the rebel of the ’70s to life, the real Nastase today remains elusive. Now in his late 70s, he speaks only in jokes or reactions, giving little away. And the film avoids probing his more controversial modern acts.

It’s curious that they didn’t dive deeper. After facing racism accusations and outbursts targeting women, hearing Nastase unravel what drove such actions could have offered nuance absent here. Was he ever compelled to sincerely address wrongs?

Viewers mostly see Nastase through others’ rose-tinted lenses. But people are complex with many facets. His upbringing in Soviet-era Romania and navigating sports’ changes surely shaped rich layers beyond pranks. More context around his political views and life beyond tennis could have rounded out his character.

While showcasing Nastase’s athletic prowess and charm, the documentary lets one side of the story prevail. A complex figure deserves a complex portrait, exploring all periods fully rather than just his prime. With more of the present and past Nastase’s perspective, viewers may have understood this famous figure on a richer, more real level.

As an homage, this film succeeds. But by only scraping the surface of its subject, it misses a chance to dig deeper into the threaded tapestry that is one man’s full life and times.

Treasures from Tennis’s Past

This film owes much of its success to its stellar use of archival material. The directors clearly left no video vault unmined, assembling an incredible collection of Ilie Nastase’s most dramatic on-court moments.

We’re treated to clashes with legends like Arthur Ashe and young hotheads like John McEnroe in living color. Nastase’s antics, from taunting applause to tossed rackets, unfold like a riveting play-by-play. Through these archives, we feel the electric thrill of witnessing this rebel in his prime.

Equally fascinating are historic interviews where a youthful Nastase reflects in multiple languages. These unearthed moments enhance our view of the complex man beneath the headlines.

Skillfully, the directors build a documentary structure around this athletic action. By following a loose chronology, they craft compelling dramatic arcs, much like a match itself. Archival footage serves as the ultimate storytelling tool, propelling interest through each new set.

While traditional in form, this method succeeds in entertaining through and through. Fans are gifted a vibrant time capsule of the sport’s past thanks to the directors’ excellent curation and use of tennis history’s treasured tapes.

Tennis’s Tangled Web

This film hints at Ilie Nastase’s historical importance beyond the tennis court. As tensions grew between Romania and the Soviet Union, he unintentionally became a symbol of national pride.

Nastase emerged during a period of social and political change. His victories resonated with many Romanians striving to break free from outside influence. One can only imagine the thrill of seeing one of their own excel in an international arena.

Yet the documentary only brushes the surface of these heady backdrop details. Nastase’s ability to represent his country while regularly traveling abroad was no small feat, given the climate. It would have greatly enriched the film to learn more about his navigation of such complex waters.

Audiences are briefly transported to this pivotal moment. However, lingering longer in those contexts could have provided a deeper understanding. We’re left wanting to explore the intricate web connecting Nastase’s iconic sporting moments to the currents of history with greater care.

There were clearly richer stories behind the short glimpses provided. Considering tennis’s growing global popularity, the filmmakers had an opportunity to craft a multifaceted portrait. Still, Nastase’s impact on helping others see past geopolitical divides remains profoundly felt.

Leaving a Legacy on the Court

Ilie Năstase truly left his mark on tennis. This film pays fitting tribute to his unparalleled talent and showmanship. Although brief at times, it captures the thrill of watching Năstase in his prime.

You can’t help but be drawn in by his spirited play. Through clips and interviews, his passion really comes alive. It’s easy to see why fans flock to see his daring shot-making. Meanwhile, players admired his skills and lamented changes that made such personalities unwelcome.

The documentary deserves praise for amassing great archived footage too. Reliving Năstase’s finest moments transports viewers back to a bygone era. While tighter focus in certain areas would strengthen the overall story, it remains a treat for tennis enthusiasts.

Most of all, this leaves you appreciating Năstase’s status as a true pioneer. By revolutionizing the sport’s entertainment and pushing boundaries, he ensured tennis wouldn’t be the same. Even if his behavior vexed some, Năstase left an indelible mark. For that legacy alone, he deserves this celebratory tribute to his trailblazing career.

The Review

Nasty – More Than Just Tennis

8 Score

In tribute to Ilie Năstase's unbridled talent and charisma, this documentary succeeds in bringing the elusive tennis star to engaging life. Though brief in segments, it richly conveys the dramatic rise of a legend who left an indelible mark. Fans will relish the archives showing Năstase's masterful skills and firebrand spirit that shook up the sport. While added context could have fortified the overall narrative, this celebratory film hits a chord in honoring a pioneer who ensured tennis would never be the same.


  • Features great archival footage that transports viewers back to Nastase's prime
  • Captures his spirited playing style and passion, which drew huge crowds.
  • Offers insight from tennis legends on his talent and influence.
  • It pays fitting tribute to his trailblazing career and legacy.


  • The story jumps around somewhat disjointedly at times.
  • He could have delved deeper into his political and social context.
  • Provides little firsthand perspective from older Nastase himself.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 8
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