Rafa Nadal continued his serene progress in pursuit of consecutive Madrid Open crowns when he swept past Spanish compatriot Roberto Bautista 6-4 6-3 on Saturday to reach the final.
The world number one, chasing a 63rd career title and a 44th on clay, has not been on top form on his favoured surface this year, losing in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
However, he has shown glimpses of his dominant best in front of adoring fans in the Spanish capital, where he is yet to drop a set, as he warms up for a tilt at a record-extending ninth French Open title starting at Roland Garros in Paris at the end of the month.
Nadal's semi-final victory against the unheralded Bautista ended the world number 45's best run at a Masters event and set up a clash on Sunday with either another Spaniard, fifth seed David Ferrer, who beat him in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals, or Japanese 10th seed Kei Nishikori.
Nadal said his performance was further confirmation of his improving form after Friday's fine win against sixth-ranked Czech Tomas Berdych in the last eight.
"After I think a great match yesterday, to have the confirmation today that the improvement is real is very good news for me," he told a news conference.
"And being 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," added the 27-year-old Majorcan, who was also champion in Madrid in 2010 and in 2005 when it was an indoor hard court event.
"This is great news in order to go out and play tomorrow's match but also for what may come in the future."
Nadal broke Bautista's serve in the opening game at the Magic Box arena but his gutsy compatriot fought back to level at 3-3 before immediately losing his serve again.
Bautista looked to have crumbled in the face of a barrage of fierce Nadal drives in the second set but raised his game to break for 4-2.
Nadal, who will be contesting his 90th career final on Sunday, broke serve for a fifth time in the ninth game and sealed victory on his first match point with a rasping forehand down the line.
Bautista will break into the top 30 for the first time thanks to his performance in Madrid.
He upset Argentine Juan Martin del Potro at this year's Australian Open and claimed a