BEIJING (AFP) - Novak Djokovic brushed off David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3 on Saturday to reach the China Open final, where old rival Rafael Nadal stands between the Serb and a sixth title in Beijing.
Top-ranked Djokovic suffered the inconvenience of having his service broken for the first time at this year's tournament but he still raced to his 28th win at an event where he is yet to be beaten.
In the women's semis, established names fell to rising stars as Garbine Muguruza beat Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and Timea Bacsinszky knocked out Ana Ivanovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
And on a cold day in Beijing, Nadal stared down his nemesis Fabio Fognini 7-5, 6-3 to reach his first hardcourt final this year as he searches to recover the form which brought him 14 Grand Slam titles.
Eighth-ranked Nadal, stopped at his beloved French Open by Djokovic this year, self-effacingly said the world No. 1 was now a class apart despite his winning record of 23-21 in their head-to-head.
"I know today Novak is not in my league, it's a different level from me this year," Nadal said.
"So for me be in the final is a great news and tomorrow is a match to try to enjoy and try to play the way that I want to play, and we'll see."
But Djokovic, who is now into his 12th straight final this year, dismissed Nadal's assessment and said he was expecting a high-quality title match on Sunday.
"I always expect a battle with (Nadal)," he said. "I always prepare myself for the battle, no question about it. He's the player I played the most against in my life. There are no secrets."
Ten-time major-winner Djokovic had been irresistible in his run to the semi-finals, dropping only nine games thus far and he soon had Ferrer gasping with two breaks of serve to go 4-1 ahead in the first set.
Ferrer, who won his 25th career title last week in Kuala Lumpur, conjured a break of his own but the stung Djokovic broke straight back and finished the set impressively in the next game.
Two more breaks in the second set put Djokovic on his way and despite a mini-implosion, when he double-faulted twice and was broken as he served for the match, a sixth break of the Ferrer serve earned him victory.
FOG OF WAR
Nadal's path to the final was much less smooth but he grittily outpunched Fognini, who has beaten him three times this season and with whom he had a furious on-court row in the Hamburg final in August.
Nadal denied an extra edge to the match in Beijing, but his lukewarm handshake at the net and apparent exchanges between his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, and Fognini told a different story.
Nadal won the bad-tempered Hamburg final but Fognini stunned the Spaniard in last month's US Open third round, becoming only the fourth player to beat him three times in the same season.
"No rivalry at all. No, no, no. I don't know what's going on, seriously," Nadal insisted.
"We had the issue that we had in Hamburg, and that's it. No problems."
Fognini also said the Hamburg row was in the past but he indicated ill-feeling may remain against Nadal's team and in particular his coach and uncle, Toni, who was seen angrily gesticulating courtside.
"What happened in Hamburg is past, for sure. But I have nothing to say (to Nadal). I have all respect with him outside and inside the court," said the Italian.
"I was telling another time, the history (argument) was not against him, but against his team, especially the uncle. But is something that is really far away.
"If I have to do something, I do it in the moment. If I do it wrong, I say, 'Sorry'. If I'm right, I'm right, and that's it."