The former world No 1 Maria Sharapova ground out a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the Pan Pacific Open final yesterday.
The Russian will play Serbia's Jelena Jankovic in the final after the seventh seed overpowered China's Li Na 6-4, 6-3, in the day's first semi-final at the $2m Tokyo event.
"I expect a very tough match," Sharapova said. "Jelena is a very solid player, a great mover, so it will be a very physical match. I'll have to fight for every point."
Sharapova, 25th in the world and chasing her first title since shoulder surgery last October, took the first set with a backhand bomb off a weak Radwanska second serve.
The Russian lost her way in the second, double-faulting to hand Radwanska a 5-2 lead, the 11th seed quickly closing out the set with a huge serve down the centre line.
Sharapova had to dig herself out of a hole at 0-2 in the decider, drawing on the experience that won her three grand slam titles from 2004 to 2008.
Shrieking louder as her groundstrokes grew fiercer, Sharapova forged ahead 5-3 by smashing a forehand down the line, celebrating with a fist pump and a yell of "Come on!"
The 2005 Tokyo champion squandered two match points on her serve in the next game but sealed victory at the fourth attempt by ripping a blistering backhand return cross court.
"I missed those match points by a hair," said Sharapova. "I knew I had to keep going for it and I did. I was able to step it up. I'm one win away now and I have to lay it all on the line."
Jankovic had too much firepower for Li but was given a good workout by the 15th seed in preparation for today's final.
"My tennis is coming back," said the world No 8, who has won just one of five meetings with Sharapova. "It's been a very tough year but I believe in myself.
"I haven't played Maria for a long time and I don't really know how she's playing. But I still have a chance to win my third title this year."