Andy Murray narrowly failed to end Novak Djokovic's amazing winning run in a Roman epic last night.
The Serb edged their semi-final clash in a third set tie-break to set up a Rome Masters final against world No.1 Rafael Nadal.
The Serbian world No.2, heading into the Murray clash on an undefeated run of 37 matches and 35 so far this season, cruised through the first set before being pegged back as the Scot found his rhythm.
But, after a topsy-turvy decider which saw Murray serve for the set at 5-4, Djokovic refused to be beaten. He broke back, forced a tie-break and then stormed through it to triumph 6-1 3-6 7-6 (7/2).
Djokovic held his opening service game to love and then broke his opponent, Murray's unforced backhand error into the net handing the world No.2 a 2-0 lead.
Murray, who lost the first set 6-1 to German Florian Mayer on Friday and spoke afterwards about the need to start well against Djokovic, must have feared the worst but showed great fight to get the break straight back in game three - reducing the deficit with a delightful drop shot.
However, the match swung once again in the Serbian's favour as he broke the Scot to love again to go 3-1 up. Djokovic stormed into a 30-0 lead, helped by Murray's inability to land a first serve, and bossed the next two rallies to take the game comfortably.
The Australian Open champion held his serve with ease in the following game and then left the British No.1 with an even steeper mountain to climb by securing a double break - again aided by a Murray double fault and a weak volley.
Djokovic was well in charge and continued to give the Dunblane-born star the runaround when he served for the set en route to taking it 6-1.
Murray looked purposeful at the start of the second set - much like he had done the previous day against Mayer.
He held his serve convincingly and then gave Djokovic something to think about in game two.
The next three games went comfortably with serve before a rare long forehand from Djokovic handed Murray a break of serve - and a 4-2 advantage.
Murray battled to hold serve to go 5-2 up, Djokovic finding the net a couple of times and sensing the set was slipping away from him.
Djokovic saved two set points on his serve in the next game but had no answer when a rejuvenated Murray served for the set, the Scot forcing his opponent to stay deep and clinching the set with a superb crosscourt passing shot.
Murray made Djokovic work hard to hold serve in the opening game of the decider and then breezed through his opening service game to level.
The Belgrade-born player held to love in the next game, finishing it off with a fierce smash down the middle, and then looked to have taken a stranglehold on the match when a Murray backhand into the net gave Djokovic a break and a 3-1 lead.
But the Scot was not giving up the fight and broke straight back thanks to a couple of superb returns and then held to level once more at 3-3.Both players were producing high-quality tennis, matching each other shot for shot and break for break. Murray looked to have put himself in the driving seat when he broke to love in game seven but the equally resilient Serbian hit back to level, a brilliant clipped volley making it 4-4.
Yet another break gave Murray a 5-4 advantage and the chance to serve for the match, but Djokovic produced some nerveless, gutsy strokes to level once more.
The final two games of the set went with serve before Djokovic, still showing remarkable energy and endeavour, took control for good. There were yet more brilliant rallies for the packed crowd to enjoy, punctuated by the odd volleyed error from Murray and fierce winner from Djokovic to extend the Serbian's staggering winning run.
Nadal earlier cruised into the final thanks to a 7-5 6-1 win over France's Richard Gasquet.