Rafael Nadal survived one of the toughest battles in his long claycourt winning streak, edging Nikolay Davydenko 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 on Saturday to reach the Rome Masters final.
The world number two battled for more than 3-1/2 hours to chalk up his 76th successive victory on clay and will be aiming to capture his 13th consecutive title on the surface when he faces Fernando Gonzalez on Sunday.
Should he defeat the Chilean, Nadal will equal Thomas Muster's professional era record of a hat-trick of Rome victories.
"It was very, very tough physically but more a mental test for me," the Spaniard told reporters. "I wasn't playing my best today, it was difficult for me to get the rhythm of the match.
"Every time I go a break up, he comes back. I was very near to losing."
Sixth seed Gonzalez ended the home crowd's hopes by sweeping aside wildcard Filippo Volandri 6-1, 6-2.
Nadal was not expected to be stretched by the fourth-seeded Russian, who was knocked out by a qualifier in the first round of the claycourt event in Estoril last week.
The second seed began in familiar fashion, drilling a forehand down the line at the end of a long rally to take the first point on his way to breaking Davydenko in the opening game.
The 20-year-old Nadal failed to keep up the momentum, making a double-fault and then hoisting a backhand wide as the Russian broke back.
Davydenko recovered from a break down three times in the first set. He even held a set point as Nadal served to level at 6-6 but netted a simple pass after chasing down a poor drop shot by his opponent.
Four successive forehand errors at the start of the tiebreak gave Nadal the lead he needed to close out the set in 75 minutes.
The players again exchanged breaks at the start of the second set which also went to a tiebreak after both players dropped serve in set-winning positions.
This time Davydenko was more adventurous and aimed for the lines to create a series of set points. Nadal fended off five of them but the contest went into a deciding set when he drifted a forehand over the baseline.
Nadal broke in the ninth game of the decider, firing a forehand winner and then taking advantage of two unforced errors to clinch victory.
Gonzalez's win over Volandri was more straightforward.
World number 53 Volandri had eliminated three seeds, including world number one Roger Federer, to become the first Italian to reach the last four in Rome since Adriano Panatta in 1978.
He failed to reproduce that form and succumbed under a barrage of heavy groundstrokes unleashed by the Chilean.
Gonzalez beat Nadal on his way to reaching the Australian Open final this year.
Asked what chance he had of winning the final, Gonzalez replied: "I'm confident. I have nothing to lose and he's the man with the record.
"I've been playing really good in the last two matches and the conditions are really good for me here. I'm very excited about tomorrow."