Rafael Nadal reached the US Open final with a dogged straight-set win over Italian Matteo Berrettini.
The Spanish second seed, 33, survived two set points in the opener before his class shone through in a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 6-1 win at Flushing Meadows.
Berrettini, 23, lost momentum after missing his chance but still showed why he is rated highly.
Nadal, going for a fourth title in New York, plays Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final.
The fifth seed, 23, edged the crucial points against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov to win 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 6-3 earlier on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Nadal is already known as the ‘King of Clay’ after a record 12 victories at Roland Garros, but is setting his sights on overhauling Roger Federer in the race to be considered as the greatest of all time across all surfaces – at least by using the clearest, objective indicator of Grand Slam titles.
Since 38-year-old Federer’s quarter-final exit to Dimitrov at Flushing Meadows, which swiftly followed Novak Djokovic’s retirement against Stan Wawrinka because of injury, Nadal has been the hot favourite to earn his 19th major win.
If Nadal beats Medvedev, like he did in the recent Rogers Cup final in Montreal, he will move within one of Federer’s tally for the first time.
The Spaniard has only dropped one set on his way to final and, after using all of his survival instincts to stop Berrettini doubling that tally, produced another quality display which suggests Medvedev will find it difficult to overcome him.
Nadal, described by Berrettini before the match as the “greatest fighter ever in the sport”, dominated his service games throughout the match, not facing a single break point and dropping just 13 receiving points.
“The first set was a little bit frustrating because I had a lot of free points and you don’t want to be in the tie-break against a player like him,” said Nadal, who failed to take any of six break points in the opening set.
“I was a little bit lucky in the tie-break but I survived and then finally I had the break and after that the match completely changed. I played with more calm and was more aggressive.”
Berrettini was the first Italian man to reach a US Open semi-final since 1977 and, in a city famed for its Italian heritage and population, unsurprisingly had a raucous backing on Ashe.
But the 24th seed – along with many inside the near 24,000 arena – was left rueing his inability to come out on top in a marathon opening set which he should have closed out.
Although his huge serve came under pressure, Berrettini impressed with ferocious forehands and his ability to mix things up, but was let down by his decision-making when it mattered most.
Helped by a Nadal double fault in the first point of the tie-break, Berrettini moved into a 4-0 lead with a brutal backhand winner across the court and teed up two set points at 6-4 with a neat volley.
Serving on the next point, he became tight on his delivery and could not pick up a clean backhand when he moved forward to the net.
A poor drop shot on his second set point barely reached the net, leaving Berrettini – and the noisy American-Italian fans – deflated as the ever-indestructible Nadal fought back to take the opener in one hour and 13 minutes.
Another weak effort from the baseline also proved his undoing in the second set, bringing up two more break points in the seventh game and – unlike the first set – Nadal converted clinically.
From that point, if not from the end of the first set, the outcome was inevitable.
Experience may have proved the difference on Berrettini’s first Grand Slam semi-final but the potential of the powerful Italian, who has won ATP titles on clay and grass this year as well as performing well here on the hard courts, was clearly evident.