By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Defending champion Rafa Nadal continued to look more like his old self as he crushed Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6(3) 6-1 to reach the Madrid Masters final on Saturday.
The home favorite, bidding for a third consecutive Madrid title but still searching his for his best form, will face either Andy Murray or Kei Nishikori in the final.
Chasing a fifth title overall at the claycourt event in the Spanish capital, third seed Nadal edged a tight first set before turning the screw in the second to exact revenge for a straight-sets defeat to the Czech sixth seed in this year's Australian Open quarter-finals.
Nadal had won 17 consecutive matches against Berdych before losing to the world number seven in Melbourne and restored his dominance with a solid display that included a series of trademark whipped forehand winners.
The Mallorcan is the favorite to claim the title after world number one Novak Djokovic decided to miss the event to rest and Roger Federer, who took over from the Serb as top seed, fell to Australian Nick Kyrgios in the second round.
After struggles with injury and illness, Nadal is attempting to rediscover his spark on his favored surface before he makes a bid for a record-extending 10th French Open singles title in Paris starting at the end of the month.
He won a 46th career clay title in Buenos Aires in February and is just three shy of the record of 49 held by Guillermo Vilas, but was surprisingly beaten at subsequent clay tournaments in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
With the sun beating down on center court in the Magic Box arena, Berdych saved both break points he faced in the opening set but faded badly in the tiebreak.
Nadal punished a series of errors from the 2012 runner-up to open up a 5-1 lead in the second set and sealed victory on his first match point when Berdych sent a return sailing out.
Briton Murray, the second seed, and fourth-seeded Japanese Nishikori play their semi-final later on Saturday.
Nishikori lost to Nadal in last year's showpiece when he had to withdraw due to injury.
(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Martyn Herman)