Roger Federer moved within a victory of his 50th career title by beating Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (1) in the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters on Saturday.
Federer, who won the event in 2005, was due to face James Blake in yesterday's final. Blake beat Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 6-2 in the other semi-final.
Federer is 6-0 against Blake. A win would make him the fifth-youngest player to win 50 titles, at 26 years, 11 days. Bjorn Borg won his 50th at 23 years, seven months.
Blake, who has never lost to Davydenko in six matches, has improved with each match this week, after having to withdraw from the event in Montreal last week with a pulled stomach muscle.
He capped the seventh game of the second set with a 212 kph ace, and broke Davydenko in the next game with a cross-court smash for match point.
"I know Roger's game. We've all watched him many, many times in many finals," Blake said. "I know what he's going to do and how effective he can be. But I feel like I'm playing as well as I have in a long time."
It was the second straight match in which Federer was pressed to three sets. He beat Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in Friday's quarter-finals.
"It was quite a fight. It was a good match, I thought," the Swiss star said of his 20th match with Hewitt. "I think it was the best match I've played this week."
Federer and Hewitt exchanged service breaks in the second and third games before Federer broke Hewitt again in the fourth game with a blistering cross-court shot to take control of the first set.
Both players held throughout the second set, which Hewitt won in a tight tiebreaker.
The third set went much like the first, with Federer and Hewitt trading service breaks in the fifth and sixth games.
But the second tiebreaker was played much differently than the first, in which Hewitt won the first three points and ultimately prevailed. This time, Federer yielded on only Hewitt's first serve, then ran off six straight points.
"In the second-set tiebreak, I played the big points well, and in the third-set tiebreak, he played the big points well," Hewitt said.
Federer let a couple of chances slip away when Hewitt saved two match points in the 10th game of the third set. Later, he was able to laugh at his confusion while describing the way Hewitt held on to force the tiebreaker.
"He hangs in there like a cat with seven lives," Federer said, then corrected himself when laughter told him he had mixed things up slightly.
"Nine? Yeah, I thought so," he said. "Seven would have been easy."
Federer committed 36 unforced errors but also served 18 aces.
"I thought I served really well," Federer said. "I'm very happy."
Federer has beaten Hewitt 11 straight times, including last week's quarter-finals in Montreal.
"The last two weeks have been good," Hewitt said. "Couldn't have asked for two better weeks, and it's taken the best guy in the world to knock me off."
Hewitt dominated Federer in their early matches, taking 7 of 9 from 1999 to 2003. But he has not beaten Federer since then.
"If I keep giving myself opportunities against Roger or Rafa [Nadal] or whoever at the end of tournaments, then sooner or later that's going to fall my way," Hewitt said.