Rome - Serbia's Novak Djokovic swept David Ferrer aside in straight sets on Saturday to qualify for the final of the Italian Open, where he will meet either Stan Wawrinka or Roger Federer.
Djokovic, the defending champion, had warned of the danger of Ferrer on Friday after his quarter-final victory over Japan's Kei Nishikori.
But Ferrer, the Spanish seventh seed and renowned clay court specialist, was broken early in the opening set as Djokovic raced to seal the set 6-4.
Ferrer battled hard to break Djokovic's service in a thrilling sixth game of the second set where advantage switched hands several times before the Spaniard sent a backhand return out.
Ferrer had never made the Italian Open final and his chances appeared to dip soon after those efforts.
The Spaniard lost focus and precision and eventually Djokovic earned the break in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead, the Serbian sealing the match with his next service game.
The win keeps Djokovic on track for his fourth Rome title, famously stopping Rafael Nadal from winning an eighth crown in the Italian capital in 2014.
He felt encouraged by a performance in which he held serve against "one of the best returners in the game".
"It's very encouraging when you know you haven't lost a serve against one of best returners in the game, like Ferrer," said Djokovic.
"He's a great competitor who always makes you play an extra ball."
Ferrer's failure to pounce on the break point chances he had worked so hard to earn ultimately proved his downfall.
The Spaniard admitted: "I served very good this week and I've had good percentages but I have to take my chances when I get them.
"I think I had one break at 5-4 in first set then 3-2 for me in second I had two break points which I didn't make.
"Against the number one in the world it's very difficult to win if you don't take those chances," added Ferrer, who provoked a chorus of laughter when responding to one journalist who asked him to confirm rumours he smoked.
"Smoke? No, if I smoke then I can't do my job as a tennis player!"
Nevertheless, Ferrer reconfirmed his status as one of the best clay court players on Tour and Djokovic admitted he had been "fortunate" on more than one occasion to dig his way out of trouble.
"I did face couple of break points, especially in the second set, when maybe I was a bit fortunate to dig my way through and up, and play well enough to break him in both sets when it was most needed," added the Serbian.
"Compared to previous matches that I played here this week, this is definitely the best match so far and the performance is satisfying and giving me enough reason to believe I can play at this level and maybe even better tomorrow."
Nadal's bid to make amends this time round was stopped at the quarter-final stage by Wawrinka on Friday, the 30-year-old from Lausanne beating the Spaniard for the first time ever on the surface.
Federer is a three-time finalist at the Italian Open but the Swiss great has been beaten every time, once by Felix Mantilla and twice by Nadal.
The women's final will be contested by Russian third seed Maria Sharapova and Carla Suarez, the 10th seed from Spain.
Suarez is in contention for only her second career title after squeezing past Simona Halep of Romania 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.
the favourite following the third round withdrawal of defending
champion Serena Williams, overwhelmed compatriot Daria Gavrilova 7-5,
6-3 to book her second final since claiming a second successive title in
Results from the seventh day of the ATP and WTA Italian Open on Saturday (x denotes seeded player):
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt David Ferrer (ESP x7) 6-4, 6-4
Stan Wawrinka (SUI x8) v Roger Federer (SUI x2)
Carla Suarez (ESP x10) bt Simona Halep (ROM x2) 2-6, 6-3, 7-5
Maria Sharapova (RUS x3) bt Daria Gavrilova (RUS) 7-5, 6-3