Novak Djokovic is as motivated as ever to overcome Diego Schwartzman and win a fifth Internazionali d'Italia title but admits it will be "strange" facing someone other than Rafael Nadal in the final.
The 33-year-old beat Casper Ruud 7-5 6-3 in Sunday's semi-final, saving two set points in the opener as he stayed on course for a record-breaking 36th ATP Masters 1000 crown.
Djokovic is currently tied with Rafael Nadal on 35 titles, but the Spanish clay-court maestro suffered a shock quarter-final elimination in Rome at the hands of Schwartzman.
However, the world number one, who has faced Nadal five times in the final of this competition, will not take Schwartzman lightly after he saw off Denis Shapovalov 6-4 5-7 7-6 (7-4) in the other semi-final.
"Most of the finals that I reached in the big events on clay I played against Rafa," he said in his on-court interview. "It's going to be strange not facing him.
"Obviously I'm not super fresh and young as I maybe was five, 10 years ago, but I still feel physically really good and I love playing in Rome.
"I always want to do well here. I feel great support and great energy from the crowd.
"With Nadal in the final and without Nadal in the final makes a big difference. Nevertheless, I will not underestimate anybody that steps on the court against me tomorrow."
Djokovic was taken to a deciding set by Dominik Koepfer in the quarter-finals and was made to work hard by compatriot Filip Krajinovic in the last 16.
The Australian Open champion, who won the Western & Southern Open last month, acknowledges that time is not on his side in his quest to set more records.
"[Making the] final at such a big event means a lot even after 15 years of being on the Tour," he said. "I still am as motivated [as ever] to get my hands on the trophy.
"This is what I work for as much as anybody else on the Tour. Of course as the time passes by, the tougher it gets. Hopefully I can get another big trophy."
Schwartzman needed three hours and 15 minutes to beat Shapovalov later on Sunday, the eighth seed reaching his first Masters 1000 final with a thrilling victory.
In what was the longest match of the tournament so far, Schwartzman broke his opponent in the second game of the contest and again in a mammoth 10th to edge in front.
Shapovalov dug deep to take the next set, though, setting up what proved to be a thrilling decider in the Italian capital.
The 21-year-old Canadian served for a spot in the final at 5-4, only for Schwartzman to earn the fifth of six service breaks in the final set.
And it was Nadal's conqueror who held his nerve in the tiebreak, taking it 7-4 to edge towards his big breakthrough.