Kei Nishikori of Japan jubilates after beating Spain's David Ferrer in the semi-finals of the Madrid Masters on Saturday. - AFP
MADRID (AFP): World number one Rafael Nadal will face Japan's Kei Nishikori in Sunday's Madrid Masters final after he romped past fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday.
Tenth seed Nishikori had a much sterner test as he needed 10 match points to finally overcome David Ferrer 7-6, (7-5), 5-7, 6-3 in nearly three hours to record his 14th straight win.
Nadal has now won 12 sets in a row in the Spanish capital as he looks for his first title of the European clay court season after suffering shock defeats in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open.
"After a great match yesterday to have the confirmation today that the improvement is real is a very good news and important for me," said the 13-time Grand Slam champion.
"I think for moments I played great tennis against an opponent that is playing really well and improving a lot.
"To be in a final here in a difficult tournament at home after losing two weeks in a row in the quarter-finals means a lot to me."
Nadal has said consistently throughout the week that his game has been improving slowly on the clay from a poor start in Monte Carlo and underlined the importance of using his forehand to dictate the rallies more than he was in recent weeks.
"I'm playing my logical game again that I've always done on clay. I think I'm playing well with my forehand and defending very well. Especially when I have a short balls my forehand is dangerous again."
After breaking the Bautista Agut serve in the opening game, Nadal was pegged back after a sloppy service game of his own to allow the world number 45 to level at 3-3.
However, the three-time champion in Madrid suddenly upped his intensity to take the next seven games to close out the first set and move a double break up in the second.
Bautista Agut showed some resistence to stave off two more break points to get himself on the board before breaking to close to within a game of Nadal at 4-3.
Nadal, though, upped his level again to take the final two games to round off victory in an hour and 43 minutes.
Nishikori has already secured his place as the first Japanese man to make the top 10 when the latest rankings are released next week and continued his rapid rise with a gutsy performance against the world number five.
However, just like in his quarter-final win over Feliciano Lopez, Nishikori needed extensive treatment on a back injury that could hamper his chances against Nadal.
"I don't know how I'll feel tomorrow, I'll have to see how I wake up," he said.
"These two days have not been great. I cannot say too much, but hopefully I'll be able to play another good match tomorrow."
Nishikori has never beaten Nadal in six meetings, but the 24-year-old believes he can take inspiration from his narrow three-set defeat to the Spaniard at the Australian Open.
"I'm feeling more comfortable than before about playing Rafa, but it's going to be a different situation on clay court. I lost to him pretty bad at the French Open last year.
"But I learned a lot of stuff from the Australian Open. I kind of know how to play to beat him."
After a break apiece in the first set, Ferrer had led 5-2 in the tie-break before Nishikori reeled off five points in a row to take the set.
And he looked on course for victory in the second set as he had his first match point at 4-5 on the Ferrer serve, but the Spaniard saved it with an ace and went on to break and save two break points on his own serve to see out the set.
Nishikori then had to take an injury timeout, but he didn't seem overly troubled as he moved 5-2 in front in the decider.
However, he needed another nine match points in an incredible final game which lasted over 15 minutes to finally claim a place in his first ever Masters Series final.