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Djokovic Edges Murray In Pulsating Contest

Melbourne, Australia

Djokovic, Murray© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic and Andy Murray embrace after contesting an epic semi-final.

World No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the Australian Open final for the third time on Friday night after edging two-time runner-up Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-5 in a pulsating semi-final clash in Melbourne.

The Serbian also defeated Murray in the final at Melbourne Park last year, and improved to a 7-4 lead in their FedEx ATP Head2Head standing. "It was so close. Both of us believed that we can win, and that's how we played," said Djokovic. "In the decisive moments we were aggressive and wanting to win this match. I think crowd enjoyed it as much as we did in competing. It could have easily gone the other way. He was couple of points away from winning the match, so I was lucky to go as a winner."

In Sunday’s final Djokovic will face World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, whom he defeated in all six of their meetings last year, including in the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. The Serbian is bidding to win his fifth Grand Slam championship, having also won the 2008 (d. Tsonga) and 2011 Australian Open crowns. "It's a new year. It's a new challenge. It's a different situation," Djokovic said. "He has maybe a day advantage over me for recovery and for getting ready for the final. That's going to be my main priority and concern the next day and a half, to physically be able to perform my best and be ready to play five sets. If I am able to do that, then I can believe that I can win."

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Djokovic had Murray under pressure early in the pair’s 11th meeting, with the Scot needing to rescue a 15/40 situation in the second game of the match. With the longer rallies favouring the Dunblane native in the early exchanges, Murray then had his chance to break Djokovic in the third game, but netted a second serve return. Three successive service breaks followed. Murray surrendered his serve in the fourth game with a costly double fault, but was immediately reprieved and broke back in the fifth game. Equity was not restored for long, though, as Djokovic regained his advantage with a service break to love and went on to clinch the opener in 47 minutes.

MurrayThe tide looked to be firmly in Djokovic’s favour as the Serb broke for a 2-0 lead at the start of the second set, benefitting from a spate of Murray errors, and had the chance for a double break lead, but failed to convert. The reprieve proved to be the catalyst for Murray, who reeled off six of the next seven games to draw level, working Djokovic hard in long exchanges around the baseline and reaping the rewards as his Serbian opponent struggled to match him. The No. 4-ranked Murray held his nerve serving to level the match, rallying from 15/40 down to hold on and win the 65-minute second set.

Murray had chances aplenty to break Djokovic at the start of the third set and was denied on seven chances before breaking through in the third game with a smash winner. A loose game from the 24 year old immediately allowed Djokovic to draw level, though, and the Scot missed the chance to regain the advantage in the fifth game as Djokovic held on for a 3-2 lead.

The drama continued on a riveted Rod Laver Arena as Murray saved three set points in the 10th game, before breaking Djokovic in the following game, exhibiting great defensive skills for a 6-5 lead. However, the Scot failed to find the range on his forehand when serving for the set, and Djokovic hit back to force a tie-break. Murray broke decisively in the tie-break as Djokovic sliced a backhand long and converted his second set point opportunity at 6-4 with an unreturned serve to close out the 88-minute set. "I thought I was poor the first set," admitted Murray. "Then I started to play better and managed to turn around the second set playing better, and the third set. Some of the points in the second and third sets were brutal. They were so long."

Murray was unable to capitalise on his momentum at the start of the fourth set. Indeed, a significant lull in the Scot’s intensity and play allowed Djokovic to hit back straightaway. The four-time Grand Slam champion demonstrated his mental strength as he dismissed the disappointment of the third set and raced to a commanding 4-0 lead. A third break of serve saw him clinch the 25-minute set and force a decider.

DjokovicDjokovic was quick to press Murray in the fifth set and broke through in the sixth game, pushing the Scot back before hitting a forehand winner past him to lead 4-2. The Serb stretched out his lead to 5-2 and served for the match in the ninth game, before Murray made one final push. The right-hander showed his fighting spirit to break Djokovic back to love and then level at 5-5. In the 11th game Murray appeared on the verge of the ultimate comeback as he engineered three break points, but he was denied by the resilient Djokovic, who held on for 6-5. The defending champion then upped the ante in the final game and attacked Murray for a service break to 15 to seal the dramatic victory in four hours and 50 minutes.

Murray was bidding to reach the Australian Open final for the third year in a row, having finished runner-up to Roger Federer in 2010 and against Djokovic last year. The Scot came into the tournament on the back of winning his 22nd ATP World Tour title at the Brisbane International (d. Dolgopolov) and was contesting his fifth successive major semi-final. "I think there's a very fine line between being No. 1 in the world and being 3 or 4. I think that gap, I feel tonight I closed it," believes Murray. "My job over the next two or three months is to surpass him and the guys in front of me. So take a lot of hard work, and hopefully I can do it."

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