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Thrill of the chase

sports Updated: Jan 28, 2012 01:39 IST
Melbourne

World number one Novak Djokovic fought off what appeared to be breathing problems and fatigue to advance to the final of the Australian Open following an epic five-set semifinal victory over Britain's Andy Murray.

The defending champion, who said he had breathing problems in his quarterfinal against David Ferrer, looked tired throughout the match but still managed to win 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 in four hours, 50 minutes and deny Murray a third successive Melbourne Park final.

"It's difficult to describe. I was trying to focus on every point," Djokovic, who meets Rafael Nadal in Sunday's final, said in a courtside interview.

"It was a physical match. It was almost five hours. It was one of the best matches I played. Emotionally and mentally it was hard.

"We were always trying to hold our serves. It felt like we were breaking each other easier than serving it out.

"Andy deserved the credit to come back into the match ... Thank you guys for staying this late and hopefully be entertained."

Djokovic used last year's Australian Open title to catapult himself to two further grand slam titles, the top of the rankings and a 70-6 record, which included a 41-match winning streak to begin the 2011.

The only time the two close friends had played each other in a grand slam was last year's final at Melbourne Park, where Djokovic won 6-4 6-2 6-3, though their career record was close with the Serb holding a 6-4 advantage.

Both entered the semi-final on Friday barely having been tested in their early matches in the Australian heat, though Djokovic was pushed to four sets by Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round.

Breathing problems
Djokovic appeared to be struggling after several long rallies that extended beyond 20 shots in the first set on Friday.

The 24-year-old, however, still managed to take the first set when Murray gave him two cheap breaks, the first of which forced the exasperated Scot to exclaim "Come On Andy".

Djokovoic continued his momentum to take a 2-0 lead in the second set before Murray rattled off the next four games as he moved the world number one around court and began to find his range with his forehand.

The fourth seed was able to capitalise and sealed the second set after 65 minutes.

The third set again ebbed and flowed with Djokovic looking out on his feet, though Murray appeared to tighten up and let the Serb off the hook several times before managing to seal a 2-1 lead when Djokovic's forehand return went wide in the tiebreak.

Murray went to sleep in the fourth set, winning just four points in the first four games as Djokovic raced through to claim the set in 25 minutes and send the match to a decider.

Djokovic had stormed to a 5-2 lead in the final set, but Murray fought back to level it at 5-5 and held three break points in the 11th game, before the Serb fought back and then broke to seal his place in the final again.

"What can be a bigger challenge than playing Rafa Nadal, one of the greatest players," Djokovic added.