ROME - For the second match in succession Novak Djokovic survived an Italian Open dogfight on Saturday, this time beating big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 6-7 7-6 6-3 to reach the final.
Djokovic, who won a sizzling quarter-final against Spain's David Ferrer, was subjected to an onslaught of power by Raonic but eventually got the upper hand to book a final against either top seed Rafa Nadal or Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
In the women's event world number one Serena Williams gained revenge for her Australian Open fourth round defeat by Ana Ivanovic, beating the Serb 6-1 3-6 6-1 to set up a final against local favourite Sara Errani.
Errani became the first Italian to reach the final in nearly 30 years after she saw off Serbia's twice former champion Jelena Jankovic 6-3 7-5 in front of a passionate Foro Italico crowd.
"The crowd was a motivation for me, they were unbelievable," said a delighted Errani, who will have to beat Williams if she is to go one better than compatriot Raffaella Reggi in 1985.
The dream final between Djokovic and Nadal is the most likely scenario for the men's showdown but both players will have plenty of battle scars should that be the way it pans out.
Not least Djokovic who was involved in another punishing match against the 23-year-old Raonic - a clash of styles lasting exactly three hours.
"It's a big win because it gives me strength and belief that I can hopefully carry towards the final and the rest the season," Djokovic, bidding for a third Rome title, said.
"I can't remember the last time I felt so helpless in a return game. I couldn't predict his serve at all."
He started in low-key fashion, apparently content to bide his time as Raonic unleashed serves at 230kmh.
The 26-year-old looked to have the first set sewn up when he won the first three points in the day's first tiebreak, only for Raonic to fire back with an incredible six-point streak on his way to sealing an opening set in which he flung down eight aces.
Djokovic was in the box seat in the second set when he finally broke Raonic's serve in the fourth game after an hour and 42 minutes, only for the Canadian to break right back in a game that contained an improbable backhand drop shot.
The set drifted to another tiebreak, and despite Raonic fighting back from 2-0 down Djokovic held his nerve to take it 7-4 and set up a decider.
Raonic dropped serve immediately in the third and that effectively spelled the end of his challenge as Djokovic moved through to his fifth final in the Italian capital.
Williams started in blistering fashion against Ivanovic, romping through the opening set in ruthless fashion.
However, Ivanovic showed real grit as she got a foothold into the match and rattled off four games in a row at the start of the second set as the momentum swung her way.
Williams recovered her poise though and normal service was resumed in a one-sided third set.