Andy Murray overpowered Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday, setting up a Shanghai Masters final against David Ferrer and taking another step in his bid to pass Roger Federer in the rankings.
Ferrer, ranked No. 5, struggled past fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3. It was the third straight match he has come back to win after losing the first set.
Murray, the defending champion, has won 24 of his last 25 matches and is trying to capture his third tournament in three weeks. If he wins the title Sunday, he will advance from No. 4 to No. 3 and overtake Federer in the rankings, a goal he had set for the end of the year.
Federer made last year's Shanghai final but skipped this year's tournament to rest and recover from injuries. He hasn't been ranked below No. 3 since June 2003 - just before he won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon.
Murray has been ranked as high as No. 2 but has never finished the year higher than No. 4.
"It's not the ultimate goal, but it's a step in the right direction," he said.
Nishikori won just one point on the Scotsman's serve in the first set and six in the entire match, which lasted less than an hour.
The 21-year-old player has had the best week of his career, defeating two Top 20 players - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France and Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. His ranking will improve to about No. 32 next week, the highest ever for a Japanese player on the ATP tour.
"I didn't have any chance to break him. He had a good return. I mean, good everything," Nishikori said. "He was really, like, genius to play."
Murray has barely been tested this week. He received a bye in the first round, a walkover in the second and easily beat a 124th-ranked qualifier in the quarterfinals. The Scot dropped one set to the only seeded player he's faced, No. 13 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland.
Ferrer, meanwhile, had to save three match points in his third-round win over Juan Carlos Ferrero and edged Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals in a third-set tiebreaker.
He had a tough time with Lopez, too. Although Lopez is ranked 23 spots below Ferrer, he had a 6-1 record against his countryman on hard courts coming into the match and had eliminated three seeded players in straight sets to reach the semifinals.
"I know the record with him, it was bad, no? But I tried to refocus on my game," Ferrer said. "I had confidence with me, with my game."
Lopez was aggressive in the first set, coming in behind his big serve and backhand slice repeatedly to finish off points at the net. After going down 4-1 in the tiebreaker, Lopez hit three big serves and a running backhand crosscourt winner to come back to take the set.
But Ferrer rebounded in the second, breaking Lopez in the third game when Lopez hit a slice backhand wide. He then got the decisive break in the third set when Lopez missed another shot badly wide while serving at 3-4.
"Maybe today I played the better match of this week," he said. "When I lost the first set, I tried to forget the tiebreak and I tried to focus again. I played better in the second and the third."
Murray has won seven Masters tournaments; Ferrer is looking for his first such victory. Murray also has beaten Ferrer twice this year - last week in the semifinals of the Japan Open in Tokyo and in the semifinals of the Australian Open in January.
"He's one of the toughest guys on the tour to play against," Murray said. "I played well against him last week but every match is obviously different. He's definitely going to be bang up for the match."