Roger Federer blazed into the Shanghai Masters semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Kei Nishikori as the Swiss great’s title defence belatedly caught fire on Friday.
The top-seeded Federer will meet 13th seed Borna Coric on Saturday after the Croatian defeated unseeded Australian Matthew Ebden 7-5, 6-4.
The other semi-final tees up Novak Djokovic against young German star Alexander Zverev, just the second time they will have met.
The 37-year-old Federer was forced to battle through the first two matches of his title defence, first to Daniil Medvedev and then Roberto Bautista Agut.
But the Swiss great and 20-time major winner put Nishikori under the cosh immediately, breaking the eighth seed in the first game of both sets, though the Japanese did well to recover and force a second-set tie-break.
Federer had to play catch-up in the tie-break and said afterward that he was relieved to avoid another three-setter.
“I saw Kei was playing extremely aggressive, especially towards the end of the second set,” said the Swiss world number two, who has been content with his form this week despite being pushed to three sets in his other two matches.
“I knew I had to step it up too, and I was able to do it, so it’s a good feeling to have, no doubt about it.”
Djokovic said that he was relishing facing “top player” Zverev after the 14-time Grand Slam champion beat Kevin Anderson 7-6 (7/1), 6-3.
Djokovic saved set point in the opener before taking control of the tie-break and the second set to dump out the South African seventh seed.
The 31-year-old Serbian is in blistering form, winning Wimbledon, the Cincinnati Masters and US Open in recent months, after having elbow surgery in February.
He is in line to grab injured Rafael Nadal’s year-end number one ranking.