Nadal found himself flying by the seat of his pants - OK, white shorts - on one point against No. 6 David Ferrer, somehow winning the exchange despite falling on his rump. Otherwise, he was completely in control en route to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
Ferrer, playing in his third Grand Slam semifinal, already won two clay-court titles this year and upset Nadal in the 2011 Australian Open quarterfinals, stopping his bid for a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title - the milestone Djokovic now seeks.
With Ferrer serving at 1-1, 30-all in the second set, Nadal produced a masterpiece, turning a gaffe into a highlight.
During a point that lasted more than 30 shots, Nadal's feet slipped out from under him as he sprinted toward the net. On the slow-motion replay, it's easy to see that his eyes never left the ball, even as he crashed to the court. Suddenly sitting - yes, plopped on his backside, right there in the middle of the most important clay-court stadium in the world - Nadal raised his left arm to slice a backhand drop shot that prolonged the point and drew Ferrer forward.
As if that weren't impressive enough, Nadal popped up like a jack-in-the-box in time for the next shot, a volley-lob that arced over Ferrer's head and settled near the baseline. Ferrer, no slouch himself in the speed department, got to the ball, but his forehand landed in the net.
That gave Nadal a break point, and he converted it in much more conventional fashion, staying upright until Ferrer simply pushed a forehand long.
"Both of us were playing more or less the same type of tennis, but then he started to become more and more aggressive," Ferrer said. "There was nothing I could do to fight back."
Federer appeared to feel that way, too, particularly after Djokovic broke him four times in the second set.
At the start of that set, Federer actually appeared to get going. He broke to go ahead 1-0 in a game that featured a particularly compelling, 38-stroke point. Federer hit a drop shot that Djokovic slid and stretched to get, the ball an inch or so off the ground; Federer replied with a lob that sent Djokovic sprinting to the baseline for a no-look, back-to-the-net, between-the-legs passing shot; Federer knocked home a volley winner. Djokovic, chest heaving, smiled as he went to towel off.
On the women's side, Sara Errani, one day before she plays for the French Open singles title, teamed with Roberta Vinci to win the doubles title, beating Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Errani faces Maria Sharapova on Saturday in the singles final and is bidding to become the first since Mary Pierce in 2000 to win both trophies at the French Open.