Nadal sets up Ferrer final at ATP Rome Masters
World number three Rafael Nadal survived a three-set thriller against unseeded Ernests Gulbis on Saturday to reach the final of the ATP Rome Masters 1000 with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory.
It will be an all-Spanish final on Sunday after 13th seed David Ferrer beat compatriot and sixth seed Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-3 in the first semi-final.
Until this match, Nadal had not dropped a set on clay this season and Gulbis, who put out world number one Roger Federer in the second round, deserved much credit for pushing him to the brink in a thrilling clash that lasted 2hr 47min.
"It was a very hard match, I didn't play well, I played worse than the last days," said Nadal.
"His serve was really tough to play against, it was unbelievable during the whole match. I broke him in the first game and my second break was in the last game. I had chances but always he served at 215-220 km/h."
The 21-year-old world number 40, who will reach a career high at around 34 after this tournament, hit 13 aces to none by Nadal and blasted 50 winners to just 18 by the clay king.
But it was his 56 unforced errors compared to just 23 by Nadal that cost him.
"In the first set I started badly, I really don't like serving first, I was a little bit nervous playing him and he broke me quickly," said Gulbis.
"In the second set I was playing 10 times better, I had a good serve and my forehand was working.
"I think he was a little scared to play to my forehand. I did my best, I lost but I'm satisfied."
Nadal broke Gulbis in the opening game but thereafter his Latvian opponent matched him.
Having lost the first set it looked ominous for Gulbis at 0-30 on his own serve at the start of the second but he got out of trouble with some big serving.
More positive play gave him a break point in the next game and a rare error from Nadal, as he netted a backhand, gave Gulbis the advantage.
Gulbis served out the set but found himself under pressure at 2-3 in the decider when he went down 0-40 on his service.
But again he produced some big serving, with two service winners and a third bomb setting up a forehand winner.
In his next service game he gave up another break point due to a poor forehand mistake but he saved it with a great winner off the same side.
A feature of the match was Gulbis's success with drop shots but that also proved his undoing when trailing 5-4 as two lazy attempts saw him go down 0-30.
A forehand long gave Nadal three match points and he took the first as a tired Gulbis went wide with a backhand.
Ferrer reached his first Masters final after continuing his good form this season that has seen him win more matches than anyone else.
Verdasco started well and raced into a 5-1 lead. However he paid for his three-hour marathon victory over world number two Novak Djokovic on Friday and lost the next eight games in a row.
Having reached the final in Monte Carlo two weeks ago and won in Barcelona last week, he admitted he'd succumbed to tiredness.
"Up to 5-1 I was playing well but it was more a case of him making many unforced errors," he said.
"After that I was feeling tired but it wasn't since 5-1, it was since I woke up today."
Ferrer admitted he felt nervous at the beginning.
"In the first set I played very badly and was very nervous. Maybe in the second I was more relaxed and I had a better feel for my best shots," he said.
"When I broke back for 5-3 it was easier for me and I had more confidence in my shots