World number one Rafael Nadal survived a spirited early attack from American Sam Querrey on Friday, before beating the Davis Cup debutant 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening semi-final rubber in Madrid.
The French Open and Wimbledon champion took three hours and 18 minutes to subdue the world number 39. He struggled to contain Querrey's booming serves and powerful forehand on the specially-built clay court in Madrid's Las Ventas bullring.
Querrey said before the rubber he needed to be aggressive, and the gangly 1.98 metre (6ft 6in) 20-year-old burst out of the blocks with a series of big serves that unnerved both Nadal and VIP guests sitting behind him.
The opening passage was strewn with errors but Querrey started to find his range with big ground strokes. In the deciding game it was the inexperienced American who seized the initiative to lead it 4-1 and he held his nerve while Nadal double faulted, to grasp the set in just under an hour.
The enthusiastic crowd in the 21,000-seater arena looked as stunned as Nadal when the now-rampant Querrey immediately broke the 22-year-old at the start of the second set.
However that would be the high point for Querrey and Nadal drew the the American into longer rallies which the claycourt master invariably dominated. At the first opportunity Nadal broke back, furiously pumping his fist and shouting "vamos" (come on).
As errors crept into Querrey's game and Nadal's shots began to fizz, Querrey cracked in the 10th game to hand Nadal the set.
It was a similar story in the third as Nadal soaked up Querrey's powerful strokes and chased down everything before hitting a series of sensational counter punches. Despite battling in the fourth, Querrey finally buckled in the ninth game and chants of "torero" (bullfighter) reverberated around the packed stone stands.
Nadal said the match had been very difficult. "Never in my life have I so many service points been scored against me on clay," hel told Spanish television.