Rafael Nadal overcame a stern challenge from Ernests Gulbis to reach the Rome Masters final on Saturday, prevailing 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 after the Latvian had exposed chinks in the clay master's armour.
The Spaniard looked to have regained his old dominance on red dirt after an injury-hit 2009, cruising into the last four in the Italian capital after winning the Monte Carlo Masters with ease two weeks ago.
But by taking a set and causing problems throughout, the 40th ranked Gulbis, who ejected world number one Roger Federer from the tournament earlier in the week, showed a fifth title at the upcoming French Open is no foregone conclusion for Nadal.
In Sunday's final Nadal will face compatriot David Ferrer, who took advantage of Fernando Verdasco's capitulation to beat his exhausted fellow Spaniard 7-5 6-3.
Ferrer, the 13th seed, knocked out world number five Andy Murray on his way to the last four but he looked outgunned by his in-form opponent early on.
Sixth seed Verdasco, who had beaten Ferrer en route to winning last week's Barcelona Open, produced some glorious shots to race 5-1 ahead.
But his concentration snapped and he threw away the commanding position, losing the next eight games to go a set and 2-0 down in the second.
Verdasco, who needed over three hours to oust world number two Novak Djokovic on Friday, staged a brief comeback, breaking Ferrer after being jeered by the crowd for his wild shots.
But he surrendered serve again and subsequently slumped out and his grimacing look suggested he may have been hindered by a physical problem.