Andy Murray will bid to end a tormenting run of three losing Australian Open finals as world number one Novak Djokovic eyes a fifth triumph in Sunday’s decider in Melbourne.
The year’s first major has been a heartbreak Grand Slam for the Scot, but he has given himself another chance to finally break through and add to his Wimbledon and US Open crowns.
To do that the British sixth seed must halt Djokovic’s formidable record on the Melbourne hardcourts where he reigns supreme, is four-from-four in finals and into his fifth title decider in eight years.
Djokovic has beaten Murray in two of his three Australian losses in 2011 and 2013, but the feisty Scot has mastered the Serb in his two major triumphs at the 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon.
History also beckons for Murray, who became the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years two years ago. He could also become the first Briton since Fred Perry in 1934 to lift the Australian trophy.
Djokovic, chasing his eighth Grand Slam triumph, is the favourite, but Murray carries sentimental support given his travails in Melbourne. The question is whether he is a better player for those experiences.
“I know it’s going to be extremely difficult to win the match tomorrow. I know if I want to win, it will probably be very tough and challenging physically,” Murray said Saturday.
“So I need to prepare myself mentally for that. But he has a fantastic record here. He obviously loves the court and the conditions. It would be a big upset if I manage to win tomorrow.”
Murray, under the coaching of two-time French major champion Amelie Mauresmo, looked impressive in turning over Tomas Berdych in Thursday’s semi-final, while Djokovic laboured over five sets to put away defending champion Stan Wawrinka.
While delighted to have again reached Sunday’s final, Djokovic admitted “the level of performance was not where I wanted it to be”.
For his part, Murray was pleased with the state of his game and proud to be in a fourth Melbourne final in an era dominated by Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Wawrinka had the weapons to leave Djokovic gasping at times running around the court during their semi, which must have encouraged Murray, who while regarded as a great defensive players, is looking to add more variety to his game.
“He’s been playing some great tennis these couple weeks,” Djokovic said of Murray. “From my side it’s going to be necessary to play my best match of the tournament if I want to win.
“There’s no clear favourite. But the record I have in finals against him in Australia can serve maybe as a slight mental edge. But not much.
“I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated to win his first title here. I’m going to give my best to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Up until Friday’s semi-final, Djokovic had lost just one of his 74 service games in the tournament. Against Wawrinka his serve was broken five times and that will give Murray confidence.
Murray showed he is capable of making tactical tweaks during his matches to counter his opponents and is expecting he may have to do the same against Djokovic.
“I made some big adjustments in the Berdych match from how things were going at the start,” he said.
Djokovic and Murray have been playing each other since they were young juniors and both teams socialise with each other and get on well.
“We have a very good relationship, my team and his team, so we always joke around.”