Jerzy Janowicz became the first qualifier in eight years to reach the Paris Masters final on Saturday, extending his sensational run to meet David Ferrer.
Janowicz will bid for his first career title against Ferrer, who is tied with Roger Federer for the most tour titles this year and can move ahead of the Swiss star if he clinches his seventh of the year on Sunday.
Ferrer, the only seed in the semifinals at No. 4, survived an early onslaught from Michael Llodra to beat the Frenchman 7-5, 6-3.
The 69th-ranked Janowicz, who was playing in Futures tournaments at the start of the year, has beaten five top-20 players on his improbable run. The Pole knocked out Philipp Kohlschreiber (19) Marin Cilic (15), Andy Murray (3) and Janko Tipsarevic (9) before topping 20th-ranked Gilles Simon of France 6-4, 7-5 in the early semi.
"I cannot believe this actually. How is this possible?" Janowicz said. "I came here just to play qualifications, and suddenly after a few days I'm in the final. I don't know how did I this, but tomorrow the final is waiting for me. Wow."
Janowicz also amazed himself in being able to block out the crowd's overwhelming support for Simon. He broke in the fifth game of the first set and in the 11th of the second, clinching victory on his second match point.
After hugging Simon at the net, Janowicz let out a scream and dropped to the floor with his head in his hands after becoming the first player in 12 years to reach a final on his Masters debut.
"I didn't know what I was supposed to think, and I had a thousand different kind of feelings," Janowicz said. "When I had match point today I felt a little bit strange. I had chicken skin [goose bumps]."
Janowicz won 88 per cent of first-serve points and did not face a single break point.
"I think I'm among the best returners on the circuit each year, and I didn't get the slightest chance," Simon said.
Janowicz is still struggling for sponsorship and missed the Australian Open because he didn't have enough money to travel. He had previously reached only one career quarterfinal, in Moscow last month.
"The street next to my house actually is completely blocked. There is like about nine or 10 cars, TVs. There is no way to get to my house right now," he said. "So I think after this final I have a chance to find some really good sponsors and I will not have to worry about the money."
Poland President Bronislaw Komorowski is also a new admirer. Asked if he had been contacted by Komorowski, a smiling Janowicz said, "I don't know if I can answer this question, but probably, yes."
Janowicz is expected to break into the top 30 next week after beginning the year ranked 221st.
Jarkko Nieminen of Finland is the only qualifier to win a tournament this year, in Sydney in January.
The last player to reach a Masters final on debut was Harel Levy of Israel in 2000. He lost to Marat Safin in Toronto. Safin also beat qualifier Radek Stepanek in the Paris Masters final in 2004.
Ferrer, who has lost his previous three Masters finals, saved 10 break points in the first set — seven of those in his first two service games — as Llodra attacked aggressively and served confidently.
Llodra had not lost his serve before in the tournament, but was broken three times by Ferrer — the first time in the 12th game.
Looking to become the first player outside the top 100 to reach a Masters final since Andrei Pavel here in 2003, Llodra had Ferrer desperately defending all over the court early on.
But Llodra started to tire late in the first set as his frenetic efforts caught up with him. He dumped a poor volley into the net to put himself set-point down and Ferrer clinched it with a backhand pass down the line.
He broke Llodra again with a passing shot and held for 3-0. At the changeover Llodra grimaced as a trainer rubbed his lower back for several minutes. Llodra lost his serve again and slipped to 4-0 down, before breaking Ferrer at the 11th go to pull back to 4-1.
Ferrer sealed the win when he returned Llodra's drop shot with a crosscourt winner.