Sixth-seeded Marat Safin downed No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 7-6 (2) in a superb Paris Masters quarterfinal on Friday.
Safin served 10 aces in a display full of astonishing power-hitting and moments of improvised genius to move a step closer to joining Boris Becker as the only three-time winners in Paris Masters history.
"It's a long time since I played this well," said Safin, winner in 2000 and 2002. "I hope I can stay playing like this until the end of the season."
He will face No. 13 Guillermo Canas of Argentina in Saturday's semifinals, in which the other features qualifiers Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic and Max Mirnyi of Belarus.
Safin tormented the dogged Hewitt with blistering backhands down the line, cunning changes of direction, and subtle drop shots, and felt like he was rediscovering his best form.
"I started the year at [number] 89 and now I am doing well," Safin said. "I believe I can win another Grand Slam next year."
In the rematch of the 2002 final, Hewitt rallied in the second set, breaking Safin to pull back to 5-5 but the Australian could not hold the momentum.
``He'll be holding up the trophy on Sunday,'' Hewitt said of Safin. ``He plays the big points well, hits cleanly on both sides and his double-fisted backhand is right up there. He makes it all look so easy.''
In the second set, Hewitt recalled hitting a clean volley which looked like a certain winner but Safin chased it down and returned it with a glorious lob inside the line.
"I felt I'd played the perfect point, that I'd hit that volley like Pat Rafter ... and then he got a backspin lob over me," Hewitt said in disbelief.
Hewitt had two set points on Safin's serve at 6-5 in the second but Safin saved both and led the pair of former US Open champions into the tiebeaker, where Safin raced to a 4-0 lead with a series of stunning passing shots.
"I hung in there and maybe could have forced a third set," Hewitt added. "Then, with Marat, who knows what could have happened."
Safin has a habit of self-destructing and is prone to self-doubt. But he kept his composure and delighted the crowd with his effortless strokeplay.
"To beat Lleyton, you have to stay focused all of the time," he said, after tying their head-to-head record at 5-5.
Canas cruised past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-3, Stepanek beat Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 7-6 (1), 6-3, and Mirnyi saved match point before beating Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (5) in a little over 2 1/2 hours.
Lopez proved capable of splendid attacking strokes but was far too error prone, often charging to the net and leaving himself wide open. At 1-1 in the second set, Canas fell awkwardly and had to receive treatment to his left ankle. He returned with heavy strapping and moved tentatively around the court as the players held service games.
Canas made the decisive break for 4-2, and ultimately clinched victory when Lopez hit a wild forehand into the net.
Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati lost their shots at qualifying for the WTA Tour Championships with losses Friday in the Advanta Challenge.
Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France beat Williams 7-5, 5-7, 6-1. Russia's Vera Zvonareva ousted Capriati 6-0, 6-1 in their quarterfinals match.
Williams and Mauresmo did an excellent job of holding serve in the first set, with Mauresmo picking up the only break to win. In the second set, neither player held until Williams hung on at 4-3 to go up a break. But Mauresmo cruised to a 3-0 lead and ran away with the final set.