PARIS -- After 14 days, 12 matches and an injury retirement that sapped the life from what could have been the upset of the tournament, millions of tennis fans today get what they were hoping for in the French Open men's final - defending champion Rafael Nadal vs. No. 1 Roger Federer.
They can only hope now that the man they'd least want to see in this heavily anticipated championship match, ITF trainer Per Bastholt, stays off the court today.
Six men already had quit matches with injuries this fortnight, and an additional two with an upset stomach and flu, when the overworked Bastholt was hustled onto the Philippe Chatrier court after 1 hour, 23 minutes Friday to treat David Nalbandian for a reinjured stomach muscle on his left side.
Fifteen minutes and four games later, trailing Federer 3-6, 6-4, 5-2 and unable to play without pain, Nalbandian walked slowly to the sideline and told chair umpire Pascal Maria he was through, leaving 14,000 witnesses in the stadium stunned and deprived of the decisive killing they expected.
"He gave up, but if he'd been leading 5-love in the third set, he wouldn't have given up," said Federer, who was followed on court by Nadal, who snapped through a competitive but out-legged Ivan Ljubicic by 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (7) for his 59th consecutive clay-court victory and a chance to reprise his French title of 2005.
Nadal and Federer go into the championship sufficiently rested and fully prepped for a match rife with plots and subplots - Federer trying to match the five greats who have won all four majors, Nadal trying to win back-to-back French Opens, Federer attempting to defeat Nadal for the first time on clay, Nadal seeking to extend his mastery over Federer, whom he has beaten four times in a row.
And, for good measure, it's No. 1 against No. 2.
"I've created a fabulous opportunity for myself, so we'll see if I can make it good," Federer said.
Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.