By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Holder Rafa Nadal looked something close to his old masterful self on clay again as he crushed Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6(3) 6-1 on Saturday to set up a heavyweight Madrid Masters showdown against Andy Murray.
Third seed Nadal, bidding for a third consecutive title in the Spanish capital but still searching for form and consistency, edged a tight first set before turning the screw in the second to exact revenge for a straight-sets defeat by Berdych in this year's Australian Open quarter-finals.
Nadal had won 17 consecutive matches against the Czech sixth seed before falling to him in Melbourne and restored his dominance with a solid display that included a series of trademark whipped forehand winners.
"I had to play at a very high level today to have any chance and I think it was without doubt one of the best matches I have played this year," a jubilant Nadal told Spanish television.
"This week was crucial for me and the fact that I am in the final cannot be improved on given my situation coming into the tournament," added the 28-year-old.
The Mallorcan is favourite to claim the title after world number one Novak Djokovic decided to miss the event to rest and Roger Federer, who took over from the Serb as top seed, lost to Australian Nick Kyrgios in the second round.
Murray, however, will pose a considerable threat in Sunday's final after a superb performance to overcome Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-4 in a high-quality contest.
The Briton, who claimed a first claycourt title in Munich last week, has followed up with a string of impressive displays to reach his first Masters Series claycourt final.
After struggles with injury and illness, Nadal is attempting to rediscover his spark on his favoured surface before he makes a bid for a record-extending 10th French Open singles title in Paris starting at the end of the month.
Berdych saved both break points he faced in the opening set but faded badly in the tiebreak.
Nadal punished a series of errors from the 2012 runner-up to open a 5-1 lead in the second and sealed victory on his first match point when Berdych sent a return sailing out.
Murray moved up a gear from 3-3 in the first set to claim the opener against Nishikori but was a break down early in the second before again producing some stunning tennis.
"Against Rafa it's going to be extremely difficult, especially playing here in Spain," Murray told a news conference.
"Hopefully I can put in a good performance and make it tough for him and see what happens."