Rafael Nadal is one victory away from returning to the top of the world rankings after surviving a scare to beat Italian Fabio Fognini in the quarter-finals of the China Open.
The Spaniard will regain top spot if he reaches the final, regardless of what current number one Novak Djokovic does in Beijing.
Djokovic, who needs to retain the title to have any chance of holding Nadal at bay, responded with a thumping 6-1 6-2 defeat of American Sam Querrey to set up a semi-final against Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
Nadal enlarged his grand slam singles haul to 13 this year by winning the French and US Opens, but has not been on top of the world since July 2011.
He has, however, produced a stunning run since returning from a long lay-off in February.
Fognini, ranked 19, nearly upset the Majorcan on Friday before Nadal earned a 2-6 6-4 6-1 victory to reach the semis.
"It's something that doesn't create more pressure for me," Nadal, who will face fourth seed Tomas
Berdych in the last four, said of the number one ranking.
"It's something that already happened in the past. If that happens again, good, it will be special for me, but we'll see."
Fognini was a point away from taking a 5-1 lead in the second set and an upset seemed likely with Nadal seemingly troubled by a left-knee injury he suffered in the opening minutes of the match.
However, he found his form in the nick of time and the Italian managed to win just one more game.
The stylish Fognini dished out some brilliant groundstrokes in the opening set to break Nadal three times.
He continued his domination in the second set as he built a 4-1 lead but faltered with victory in sight.
Nadal blazed back to win the next five games and the 27-year-old strolled through the decider to stay on course for an 11th title of an incredible season.
"It's true that his level of tennis for a long time in the match was very, very high," Nadal added.
"When you are playing against an opponent playing well, the thing that you have to do is try to push him to the limit and try to make him play very well for a very, very long time.
"That's something that I was not doing for the first set and a half. Then the situation changed a little bit."
Djokovic needed only 52 minutes to dismantle Querrey as his love affair with Beijing continued.
The Serb has never lost a match at the tournament, winning the title in 2009, 2010 and 2012, only missing out in 2011 when he pulled out because of injury.