LONDON Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer set the stage for a grand finale to the men's season on Saturday when they demonstrated just what separates them from the bunch to seal a dream final at the ATP World Tour Finals.
World number one Nadal delved deep into his seemingly inexhaustible reserves of willpower to fight off an inspired Andy Murray in a three-hour duel before Federer obliterated Novak Djokovic with a dazzling display of artistry.
Nadal described his 7-6 3-6 7-6 victory over Murray as one of his "best matches ever" while Djokovic could only stand and admire Federer's shot-making in a 6-1 6-4 masterclass at the O2 Arena.
Both men have reached the final undefeated and to add to the intrigue on Sunday they will be facing each other in London for the first time since their unforgettable 2008 Wimbledon final when Nadal snatched Federer's crown.
There is also the small matter of the $1.6 million jackpot up for grabs, although with 25 grand slam titles between them Sunday's final will transcend financial gain.
"Obviously I'm really looking forward to playing against Rafa tomorrow," Federer, who can emulate Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl by winning the year-end title for a fifth time, told reporters. "Who wouldn't? I'm no different."
Federer conjured 31 winners in a one-sided 80-minute contest against Djokovoic, who beat him at this year's U.S. Open.
"Every ball kind of listens to him," was Djokovic's eloquent description of 16-times grand slam champion Federer's sublime performance. "He's maybe playing the best tennis in 2010."
While Federer's virtuoso display provided the gloss on a blockbuster day, the real drama happened earlier as Nadal and Murray contested one of the most memorable matches of 2010.
A ferocious encounter ebbed and flowed to keep a 17,500 sell-out crowd on the edge of their seats from the first shot to the last, both of which were ended by brutal Nadal forehands.
No wonder Murray ended up on his fourth racket before the end -- the tendon-stretching rallies often defied physics as both players extended each other to the limit.
"I think it was an incredible tennis match," Nadal told reporters. "I am very happy to beat a great champion like Andy. For me it's an amazing victory. His level is unbelievable."
Despite the pain of defeat, Murray proved that he can once again be a threat to Nadal and Federer's domination of the major prizes next year -- an opinion shared by Nadal.
"I kind of knew when I was out there that it was a great match," Murray, who will end the year fourth in the rankings, told reporters.
"The noise the crowd made when we changed ends at 6-6 in the (third set) tiebreak was incredible. It's nice in some ways to be involved in matches like that. But it's not nice losing."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)