Madrid (AFP) - World number one Novak Djokovic set-up a mouthwatering Madrid Masters final showdown against defending champion Andy Murray by seeing off Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) on Saturday.
Murray, the second seed, earlier registered just his second ever win over Rafael Nadal on clay to make the final with a 7-5, 6-4 victory.
Djokovic has yet to drop a set in the Spanish capital this week but he was nearly caught cold by the windy conditions as he had to battle back from 0-40 down in the first game with some fine serving.
The Serb slowly began to find his rhythm and broke through in the eighth game as Nishikori pulled a forehand wide before serving out for the set.
Djokovic looked set to seal victory comfortably as he led 40-0 at 5-4 in the second set, but the Japanese star dug deep, saving the three match points and then a fourth as he broke back before forcing the tiebreak.
However, the top seed bounced back to take the breaker 7-4 and set up his first meeting with Murray in a Masters series final on clay.
"I had an easy forehand to finish off the match at 40-0 then a double fault and couple of good points from Kei and the break was there," said Djokovic.
"I obviously should not have let that happen. On the other hand, I was happy the way I handled the games after that. In the tiebreak I think I played very solid under the circumstances, knowing that I missed four match points.
"I think mentally it's good to go through these particular situations for confidence."
On Sunday, Djokovic will look to extend his 22-9 head-to-head record against Murray, exactly 10 years on from their very first encounter in the Madrid third round.
"He has improved tremendously on clay the last couple years," added Djokovic.
"I think he's moving better and sliding better on the court. He is more patient. He constructs the point better, which is very important for clay."
Murray's only previous win over Nadal on clay also came in Madrid in last year's final.
Saturday's defeat brought to an end Nadal's 13-match winning run on the European clay this season after looking back to his best on his favoured surface with victories in Monte Carlo and Barcelona in recent weeks.
"I think it was a better win for me this year than last year," said Murray.
"Not loads of players have won against Rafa on clay throughout his career.
"To beat him in Spain on a clay court is obviously a big, big challenge for any player.
"I'm very pleased to have beaten him, it's a big step for me from where I was four or five weeks ago. I'm going back in the right direction again."
Nadal admitted Murray had been the better player on the big points after missing out on 11 of 13 break points.
"It was an open, competitive match which in the end was decided by a few points. The one that played the big points better won," said Nadal.
"He made the difference with his serve. I didn't play my best, but I also didn't play badly. I was at a middling level which wasn't enough to beat Murray."
Nadal had come from a set down to beat Murray in the semi-finals of Monte Carlo and was forced to try to do the same again as the Scot edged a tight first set.
The second set was a tale of break points as Murray saved eight of the nine he faced and pounced on his two opportunities to leave the home crowd silenced.
"When he had opportunities, I think I served pretty well in a lot of them, and also was trying to play sort of aggressive, offensive tennis at those moments.
"I wasn't backing off at all. So I was very pleased with that. Obviously when you play the best players they are going to create chances.
"You have to be able to respond when they do create the chances positively and I think I did that today."
Nadal finally broke on his ninth break point of the set as Murray served for the match.
However, the Spaniard couldn't back up the break as he dumped a smash into the net to bring up two more match points and then also found the net with a regulation forehand to hand Murray victory in just over two hours on court.