Djokovic vs Murray; Dawn of a new era?
Andy Murray hopes to end Britain's 75 year Grand Slam drought, against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open on Sunday, the first major final without Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer in the last three years.
Murray is aiming to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam since Fred Perry in 1936, while Serbian Djokovic is a favourite to claim his second Slam crown.
The final will be only the second in 23 majors, where both the sport's pre-eminent duo, Nadal and Federer, are missing, prompting talk of a change of guard. Third seed Djokovic and world number five Murray are close friends from their junior playing days and it will be their first meeting at a Grand Slam, athough the Serb leads 4-3 in their matches.
Djokovic goes in as favourite after his convincing straight sets win over Federer, repeating his performance against the 16 time Grand Slam champion, on the way to winning the 2008 Australian Open crown.
Murray prevailed after a punishing four set win over seventh seeded Spaniard David Ferrer in their 3hr 46min semi final on Friday, limiting his recovery time for Sunday's final. Djokovic played Federer on Thursday.
Scotland's Murray will also be seeking redemption for his bitter defeat in straight sets to Federer in last year's Australian final. In 2010, Murray choked back tears as he apologised to British fans after he was unable to serve out the third set while leading Federer 5-3, and then squandered five set points in an agonising tie break to bomb out in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13/11).
"It was tough for me, but something that I think overall has made me a better player, stronger mentally," Murray said. "They're all experiences that you need to deal with playing at the highest level of sport. You lose some tough matches and I hope that it will help me on Sunday."
"But I'm sure I'll deal with everything better than I have done in the past."
The big match with Djokovic offers Murray the chance to turn a new page in what could become one of the game's enduring future rivalries. "We've always been like (ranked) three and four the last few years, we've always been on different halves of the draw in every tournament we've played," he said. "We haven't come up against each other I think for over two years now, but we practice a lot together, we're good friends and I hope it's the start of us playing each other in big matches."
While Murray has had two demanding matches against Alexandr Dolgopolov and Ferrer to get to the final, Djokovic has looked in terrific touch, dropping just one set.
Djokovic's confidence stems from leading Serbia to their first Davis Cup triumph against France in Belgrade last month. "I knew that these two weeks are the most important, this period of the year," he said. "This is where I want to play my best tennis and I was setting up my form exactly for this tournament. It's paid off."
Djokovic also said he thrives on Melbourne's Plexicushion hardcourt surface on which he beat Tsonga for his only Slam title three years ago. "I've been playing my best tennis in this tournament," he said. "This is the only Grand Slam I've won and again this year I've been playing great, losing only a set before finals."
"That shows this surface is really suitable to my game. It's a bit slower and gives me enough time to have a couple of options in what I want to do with the ball. I can spin it out, flatten it out. "I need a little bit more time for my game, and the slower surfaces are more suited to my style of the game, and this is a great court and I like playing on it."