Rafa Nadal cleared the latest hurdle on his quest for a third claycourt title in under a month when he overpowered Frenchman Michael Llodra 6-2, 6-2 Friday to set up a Madrid Masters semi-final against Roger Federer.
The heavyweight pair were joined in the last four by unseeded Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, who caused another upset following Thursday's third-round victory over fourth seed Andy Murray when he knocked out Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6, 6-3.
Bellucci, a stylish left-hander whose previous best at a Masters event was a fourth-round berth in Miami in 2010, will play in-form Novak Djokovic for a place in Sunday's final.
The Serbian second seed silenced the home fans when he ended the hopes of sixth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to take his winning streak to 32 and his win-loss record in 2011 to 30-0, the third-best season start on record.
"I expected a very close match as he never gives up and he's a great fighter," he said of Ferrer in a television interview.
"Bellucci is obviously hitting the ball really well at this tournament and it's his favourite surface so it's going to be another tough match tomorrow."
Djokovic's red-hot form has led to speculation he could challenge Nadal's dominance on clay, especially in the Spanish capital where the courts are quick and the altitude makes the ball fly faster.
Nadal and his great rival Federer, who have 26 grand slam singles titles between them, have met in the last two Madrid finals, with the Swiss winning in 2009 and Nadal gaining revenge last year.
Former number one Federer went through to the last four when he saw off fifth seed Robin Soderling 7-6 6-4 in breezy conditions in the Magic Box arena, his 16th win in 17 matches against the Swede.
"The conditions were tough today. I didn't know you could get so much wind inside an enclosed space," said Federer.
Looking ahead to Saturday's match against Nadal, who has won 15 of 23 meetings between the pair, he added: "He seems like he is playing amazing tennis right now but I'll give it my best shot and see how I get on."
Nadal recorded back-to-back titles on his beloved clay at the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open in April, beating Davis Cup team mate Ferrer in both finals.
The 24-year-old Spaniard's win against the unseeded Llodra was his 36th consecutive victory on the red dirt since falling to Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open.
Surprise package Bellucci told a news conference his success against Briton Murray Thursday, the biggest win of his career, had given him a confidence boost and he felt ready to take on anyone.
"I was losing some matches and wasn't playing very well but yesterday I played my best tennis and today I had a lot of confidence on the court," the 23-year-old world number 36 said after beating seventh seed Berdych.
"I have got even more confidence for tomorrow's match," he added. "I've got to face the match shot after shot and ball after ball so if I continue down this path I think I'm going to do well. I think I can beat any player."
Nadal moved into the last eight Thursday without hitting a shot after resurgent former world number four Juan Martin Del Potro withdrew from the tournament due to a hip injury.
"It's not that I need minutes on the court so it didn't affect me at all," Nadal said after dispatching Llodra. "I just wish a swift recovery to Del Potro."