An unflappable Roberto Bautista Agut upset world number nine Hubert Hurkacz to dismiss a Covid-hit Poland and steer Spain into the ATP Cup final on Friday against either defending champions Russia or Canada.
Spain had a big advantage before the semi-final in Sydney had even started with Poland suffering a major blow when Kamil Majchrzak announced he tested positive for Covid-19 and had been forced into seven days of isolation.
Majchrzak had won all three of his singles rubbers so far and his replacement, doubles specialist Jan Zielinski, was a poor substitute.
He crashed 6-2, 6-1 to world number 20 Pablo Carreno Busta in just 53 minutes to hand Spain a 1-0 advantage before Bautista Agut, ranked one place above his teammate, battled past Hurkacz 7-6 (8/6), 2-6, 7-6 (7/5) in a high-quality thriller.
"It's a match that I will always remember. I think both of us could got the win today. He also really deserved a lot of good things. But this is our game, this is tennis," said Bautista Agut.
"Today I was the one who got the win. I think I also deserved it. I did a lot of good things on the court. I played really aggressive at the end of the match."
The towering Hurkacz was desperate to keep his country's hopes alive and played some incredible tennis in the final set, saving five match points with gutsy shotmaking.
But Bautista Agut was relentless and finally brought the match to an end with a crosscourt forehand.
He got over the line despite Hurkacz sending down 24 aces -- some of them rockets reaching 225 kph (139 mph) -- to his solitary one. But the Spaniard made fewer unforced errors and won more points than the Pole on service return.
- Minor symptoms -
It is the second time Spain have made the decider of the team tournament, losing to Novak Djokovic's Serbia at the inaugural event in 2020 when Rafael Nadal and Bautista Agut played the leading roles.
They are without Nadal this year, who is in Melbourne warming up for the Australian Open, but Bautista Agut effortlessly stepped up as Spain's number one while Carreno Busta has proved an impressive number two.
Both players have been flawless, winning all four of their singles matches this season.
Zielinski had never previously played an ATP Tour level singles match and it showed against Carreno Busta who didn't face a break point, hitting six aces and 22 winners on his way to victory.
"It's very important at the beginning of the year always to find the rhythm, for the confidence," said Carreno Busta, who is yet to drop a set.
"I'm happy about this tournament, I'm playing really good. I'm feeling very comfortable here in Australia, in Sydney on this court. I would like to continue this way."
Before the match, Majchrzak revealed his positive Covid result, but said the rest of the Polish team had been cleared to continue.
"I am experiencing minor symptoms and looking forward to be back on court as soon as the Australian safety protocol allow it," he said. It is the first positive case reported at the tournament.
Daniil Medvedev-led Russia face off against a Canada team spearheaded by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov on Saturday.