The greatest rivalry in tennis history is set for another chapter, with Rafael Nadal defeating Grigor Dimitrov in a five-set marathon to set up a dream Australian Open final against old foe Roger Federer.
The Spanish bull was made to fight tooth and nail but showed glimpses of his astonishing best, prevailing over Bulgarian 15th seed Dimitrov 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 in just short of five hours.
Nadal, who had an injury-ravaged 2016, needed three match points to see off an unrelenting Dimitrov and win through to Sunday's final against Federer.
"To qualify for the final in a match like this means a lot to me," an exhausted Nadal said.
"I never, ever dreamed to be back in the final of the Australian Open in the second tournament of the year, after a lot of months without competing.
"But here I am now. I feel lucky. I feel very happy really."
Former world No.1 Jim Courier had said Dimitrov would have to bully and dominate Nadal to stand a chance of making his first grand slam final.
After a slow start, Dimitrov began to do just that, his confidence growing by the minute as he fired off a series of ripping backhand winners in the second set.
The Bulgarian gave up a service break with a double-fault and squandered four set points before finally breaking through with some bold play at the net to level the match at one set apiece.
Nadal's frustration boiled over during a tense third set, venting his anger about a time violation he had received early in the second set which appeared to affect his concentration.
"I play every day almost. I always have the same problem with the same umpires. I don't know why," Nadal complained during a changeover.
There was further drama as a spectator collapsed, causing play to be delayed, before Nadal took the third set in a tiebreaker.
Playing in just his second slam semi, his first since a 2014 Wimbledon loss to Novak Djokovic, Dimitrov held serve throughout the fourth set and forced a fifth with some inspired tennis in the tiebreaker.
But the fighting spirit and supreme defensive ability which Nadal has shown throughout his storied career shone through in the decider.
The ninth seed broke Dimitrov's serve to take a 5-4 lead before holding his nerve to take the match and set up a ninth grand slam final against Federer.
"(I had) a moment in the fifth set that for sure, I wanted to win," Nadal said.
"I say to myself, 'I am giving my best, I am playing very well. If I lose, that's it. Grigor deserves, (this) too.' I think both of us deserve to be in that final. Was a great fight."
Dimitrov said he had plenty to build upon after an outstanding start to the year, which began with him taking out the Brisbane International.
"It's never easy to lose a match like that," the 25-year-old said.
"Rafa deserves pretty much all the credit right now since he's such a fighter ... but it also shows me that I'm on the right path. I'm just trying to take all the positives out of this month in Australia."
Nadal and Federer, who have won a combined 31 grand slam singles titles, last met in the final of a major at Roland Garros in 2011 when Nadal prevailed in four sets.
Nadal holds a 6-2 lead over the Swiss maestro in grand slam deciders and was also the victor in the duo's only previous Australian Open final, prevailing in a five-set epic in 2009.
Former world No.1 Andy Roddick earlier in the week described another Nadal-Federer final as potentially "the biggest match ever in Australian Open history - and maybe grand slam history".