Resurgent Serena Williams overcame a strong challenge from fellow American Meghann Shaughnessy to move into the Los Angeles Open semi-finals with a 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 win on Friday.
Competing in only her third event of the year because of a knee injury, twice champion Williams set up the prospect of a mouth-watering showdown with top seed Maria Sharapova in Sunday's final.
Russian Sharapova, chasing her second consecutive WTA Tour title, overwhelmed compatriot Dinara Safina 6-2 6-4 in the day's late match.
Sharapova, who clinched last week's Acura Classic without dropping a set, extended her winning streak to eight matches with an imperious display of searing groundstrokes and 28 winners.
For the pair to meet in a dream tournament finale, however, Williams has to beat Serbian Jelena Jankovic and Sharapova must knock out fellow Russian Elena Dementieva in the last four.
Sixteenth seed Jankovic upset 10th-seeded compatriot Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 7-6 in their quarter-final and Dementieva, the third seed, recovered from a shaky first set to beat American wildcard Bethanie Mattek 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.
Williams, who had to rally from a set down to beat Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova in the previous round, dominated her last two sets against Shaughnessy in sapping afternoon heat after losing the first 7-4 on a tiebreak.
"I honestly should have won that first set," Williams told reporters after hitting 50 winners, including 12 aces.
"I had a couple of chances to break and had a couple of easy shots but just let it slip away. But it's awesome to be in the semi-finals. I'm really feeling good about it."
Williams, whose world ranking has slipped to 110th after a truncated season, would get close to the top 50 with victory in Sunday's final.
"I feel like I'm climbing up. It's cool. I have new goals now. I'm reaching for the top 50," she added with a laugh.
Unseeded Shaughnessy, beaten in straight sets when the pair last met in the 2003 Australian Open quarter-finals, survived four break points in the opening set before coming back from 4-2 down in the tiebreak.
The 27-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona held serve to level at 4-4 and then powered a two-fisted backhand down the line to edge ahead 5-4.
After her opponent hit a forehand long, Shaughnessy unleashed a thunderous first serve to force another Williams error and clinch the first set.
However, the seven-times grand slam champion then upped the tempo as court-side temperatures nudged 100 degrees.
Generating impressive power with her groundstrokes and advancing to the net whenever possible, Williams broke Shaughnessy three times in the second set to level the match.
The deciding set went with serve until the eighth game when Williams again broke after working Shaughnessy around the court with superbly crafted rallies.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Williams was surprisingly broken for the first time after delivering her first double-fault.
Stung by her lapse, Williams took advantage of weak second serves by Shaughnessy and immediately broke back to end the encounter, her opponent double-faulting on match point.
Dementieva, who hit form with her crunching groundstrokes in the last two sets against Mattek, knows she faces an uphill battle against Sharapova on Saturday.
"She's very focused," said the 24-year-old Muscovite. "It's all about her concentration. She plays every ball like it's the last one and she doesn't give you an easy point.
"You have to work hard against her. Whether I can hold my serve will be the big question," added Dementieva, who delivered 14 double-faults against Mattek.