Rome: Novak Djokovic was made to work hard by Casper Ruud in blustery conditions before the world No. 1 got past the unseeded Norwegian 7-5, 6-3 on Sunday to reach the Italian Open final.
The Serbian had to save two set points in the first set before finding his groove to reach his 10th title clash in Rome and remain on course to win his 36th ATP Masters 1000 crown and overtake Rafael Nadal on the all-time list.
Defending Rome champion Nadal crashed out of the tournament in the quarterfinals on Saturday after a straight-sets defeat by Diego Schwartzman.
"It was a tough two-setter today. It was over two hours for two sets," said Djokovic, who equalled Nadal's tally of Masters 1000 titles by winning the Western & Southern Open last month.
"I definitely had to work hard for most of the points and it was really anybody's game in the first set.
"It was probably the windiest day since we arrived in Rome and it was quite tough to handle that. But the second set was much better, I got used to it and started swinging through the ball better."
Djokovic started sluggishly and trailed 4-5 in the opening set but broke back and won the final three games to take the early advantage in the contest.
The Serb, who fired 12 aces in the match, served with much better accuracy in the second set and broke to go ahead 3-2 before closing out in style.
He will take on Argentine Schwartzman in Monday's final. Schwartzman scored a hard-fought 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 win over Denis Shapovalov in the second semifinal.
Halep downs Muguruza
Top seed Simona Halep overcame Spaniard Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Sunday to reach the women's final and stay on course for her third straight WTA title.
Romanian Halep, who skipped the US Open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, won the Dubai title before the Tour was suspended and lifted the Prague crown on its resumption.
The 2018 Roland Garros champion cruised through the opening set against Muguruza and was on course for an easy win but Muguruza, who took a medical timeout for a back issue, battled back from 2-4 down to win the second set and force a decider.
Watched on by a small group of fans who were welcomed back for the first time since the Tour was shut down, Halep regained focus in the third set and switched gears to surge ahead 5-1.
Muguruza was not done yet, however, as she clawed her way back to 5-4. But the 2016 French Open champion, who was serving to stay in the match, made successive double faults to gift victory to Halep.
The Romanian, who is looking to extend her winning run to 14 matches and seal a first title in Rome, will next face Karolina Pliskova who beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-2, 6-4.