World number two Rafa Nadal's comeback came to a shuddering halt today when he was crushed 6-1 6-3 by Croatian Marin Cilic in the semi-finals of the $6.6m (£4.1m) China Open.
The top seed had talked this week of getting back to the kind of form he enjoyed before tendinitis of the knees and an abdominal injury disrupted his season.
With his first final since May in his sights, however, the Australian Open champion simply had no answer to the eighth seeded wildcard's power.
Cilic, in his first meeting with the former world number one, led 5-0 after just 15 minutes of the first set and allowed Nadal just two break points in the match.
The 6ft 6in 21-year-old controlled the encounter with his huge serve and power on both sides from the baseline, loping into the net to great effect when necessary.
Even the vociferous support of the centre court crowd could not rouse Nadal to anything more than token resistance at the end and Cilic sealed victory with a rasping forehand winner on his fifth match point.
The world number 15 will face Novak Djokovic on Sunday after the second seed beat Swede Robin Soderling 6-3 6-3 in a match that was closer than the scoreline suggested.
The Serbian, now assured of moving above injured Andy Murray to reclaim the world number three spot, outscored the sixth seed 6-4 in the ace count and kept his errors to a minimum.
"The result is not really a picture of the whole match," said Djokovic, who fought back after being broken in the first game of the second set.
"He's a big server and a big hitter and was aggressive throughout. I had to be very patient and take my chances when they came. Another great win."
The 22-year-old will be playing in his eighth final of the season but he has only twice come away with a victory, at Dubai and Belgrade.
"I hope the title will be in my hands tomorrow," he said before the second semi-final finished.
"I beat them both last time we played so I'm confident, but it is a final ..."
French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova later plays fellow Russian Nadia Petrova in the first women's semi-final to decide who plays France's Marion Bartoli or Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.