Spanish second seed Rafael Nadal remains on course for a third consecutive Rome Masters title after he edged Nikolay Davydenko 7-6 (7/3), 6-7 (8/10), 6-4 in a dramatic semi-final.
World number two Nadal was pushed every inch of the way by the Russian fourth seed in a tense tussle that lasted three hours and 38 minutes on Friday.
Nadal saved set point in the first set and failed to serve out the second to let Davydenko level the tie. It was the first set Nadal has dropped on clay this year.
At 4-4 in the decider, Nadal broke to love before serving out the match.
Both players were given a standing ovation at the Foro Italico's centre court as Nadal extended his record winning streak on clay to a staggering 76 matches and clinched a place in today's final against Fernando Gonzalez.
Chilean sixth seed Gonzalez defeated Italian wild card Filippo Volandri - who knocked out world number one and top seed Roger Federer in the third round - 6-1, 6-2 in just 67 minutes, leaving him far fresher than Nadal for today's showpiece.
Gonzalez, 26, has a good record against Nadal, winning three of their previous four meetings.
Nadal, whose last defeat on clay was back in April 2005 against Russian Igor Andreev in the Valencia quarter-finals, is aiming to become the first player to win the Rome Masters three times in a row.
Davydenko saluted Nadal for his never-say-die spirit.
"He's amazing - he chases every ball and physically he is great," said the world number four.
"In the first two sets I was playing in a more controlled way, but I tired in the final set and he kept coming back."
"He kept putting more and more top spin on his shots and moving me all around the court.
"I think the difference between us was physical. It's something I need to improve on as when I tire my concentration is not as good."
Gonzalez, runner-up in this year's Australian Open, insisted the pressure was all on Nadal for the final.
"I'm confident and I have nothing to lose and he's the man of the record," he said.
"He's played in many finals and he's going to be a tough guy to beat, but I have been playing really well."
Volandri, the first Italian to reach the Rome semi-finals since Adriano Panatta in 1978, had no complaints about his defeat which left the expectant home fans disappointed.
"Fernando played perfectly and gave very little away," said the 25-year-old ranked 53rd in the world.
"It's a shame that I didn't get to the final, but I've had a great tournament. It's an experience I will never forget."
The claycourt Rome Masters is a warm-up for the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year, which starts on May 27.