-- The tranquil grounds of Roland Garros witnessed a bit of orchestrated mayhem Thursday afternoon, as French Open organizers staged a photo shoot with the world's No. 1 player, Roger Federer, and Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal on the eve of their highly anticipated semifinal.
Scores of photographers jammed the plaza and stairways outside the entrance to the players' lounge, where the two players were scheduled to appear on a walkway suspended above the tournament grounds. Dozens of journalists jammed in, although no interviews were allowed, and awestruck passersby stopped in their tracks to gape at the spectacle.
It has been a long time since any tennis player has triggered as much excitement as the fiery Nadal, who turns 19 on Friday. He has been brilliant in his French Open debut, dropping only one set en route to the semifinals. Federer hasn't dropped a single set. And the only disappointing thing about their collision Friday is the fact that it won't be the men's final. (Filling out the day's forgotten semifinal are Russia's Nikolay Davydenko, the 12th seed, and the unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina.)
Nadal-Federer is all anyone wants to see or discuss. And Thursday, it was all anyone wanted to photograph.
Nadal was first to arrive for the photo shoot. And he contented himself with a cup of Haagen-Daz ice cream as he waited for Federer, staring out at the throng of photographers with a little ice cream spoon and an air of puzzlement.
Federer arrived in time, and the players were each handed a racket. Prop in hand, they draped arms around each other's backs and smiled. Federer and Nadal said nothing, but pivoted slowly to shouts of, "Rafa!" "Roger!" "Rafa, this way!" "Roger, vieni qui!" to give every photographer and gawker a clear view.
Once inside the lounge, Federer told Nadal, "See you tomorrow," and was off.
Conventional wisdom says there are three protagonists in the semifinal: Federer, the 23-year-old Swiss genius, who lacks only a French Open to complete a career Grand Slam; Nadal, Spain's left-handed matador, who boasts massive arms, a steely resolve and an incomparable record (36-2) on clay this year; and the capricious Parisian weather. A hot and dry day would favor Nadal, making his topspin-slathered forehands bounce even higher; a cool, damp day would favor Federer.