Novak Djokovic booked another dream final against Rafael Nadal but was pushed to the limit before beating world number four Andy Murray 6-1 3-6 7-6 in an exhilarating semi-final at the Rome Masters.
Djokovic, who had defeated Nadal for the first time on clay in the Madrid Open final a week ago, stretched his unbeaten run for the year to 36 matches.
The 23-year-old broke Murray's serve in the second game and then twice more as the Scot struggled to live with the Serbian's power and precision.
But Murray, who had won three of their previous four confrontations, found the slower pace of the second set much more to his liking, breaking in the fifth game to square the match.
In a thrilling deciding set, Djokovic broke Murray's serve in the fifth game but the gutsy Scot refused to give up and broke back for 3-3 with a blistering backhand followed by a forehand as the momentum swung back his way.
A flurry of breaks followed and it seemed as if Murray would finally snap Djokovic remarkable run this season when he served for the match at 5-4.
But an exhausted-looking Djokovic, helped by two double faults, dug deep into his energy reserves to break back again in a game lasting more than eight minutes.
Once in the tiebreak, Djokovic stepped up a gear and produced a drop shot and a lob to reach 6-2.
After sealing the match with another drop shot, he signally his relief by letting out an almighty roar.