Novak Djokovic has survived a brutal battle of wills with grand slam nearly man Andy Murray to reach the final of the Australian Open against fellow fighter Rafael Nadal.
Defending champion Djokovic fought the Briton to a standstill in a 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 7-5 victory after almost five hours of heart-stopping, hand-wringing tennis at Rod Laver Arena.
After finally swatting away Murray's semi-final challenge, the world number one crumpled to the court in exhausted relief, barely able to flick off the moths fluttering around his arms.
Murray could easily have walked away as the winner, Djokovic acknowledged.
"Both of us believed that we can win, and that's how we played," he said.
"It could have easily gone the other way. He was a couple of points away from winning the match, so I was lucky to go as a winner."
A shattered Murray exited with his head held high after proving without doubt he belongs in the elite company of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer - beaten by the Spaniard in Thursday's first semi-final.
"Tonight's match was important for many reasons," a drained Murray said.
"Obviously I wanted to win first and foremost. But after the year that Novak's had, I think there's a very fine line between being number one in the world and being three or four.
"I think that gap, I feel tonight I closed it."
The runner-up at Melbourne Park for the last two years, Murray had been in top form coming into the last four.
The addition of eight-times grand slam champion Ivan Lendl as coach has brought a more focused approach to his preparations and with confidence coursing through his veins, the Scot has added a more aggressive edge to his game.
Surprisingly it was the defensive-minded Murray of old that stumbled through the first set, as Djokovic dictated the pace of play, earning easy points off the 24-year-old's sloppy forehand and pouncing on a tame second serve.
Shoulders drooping and feet dragging, a muttering Murray looked a lost cause at 2-0 down in the second set.
But then the tide turned.
With Lendl concocting energy drinks in the players box to fuel the Murray machine, the Briton sprang to life, stepping in on the Djokovic serve and finding his range from the baseline.
Even the stoic Lendl was caught up in the moment, pumping his fist at a marvelous Murray winner before settling back in his chair in stony-faced silence.
With the match tied at 1-1, Murray came through a thrilling third set tiebreak to move within a set of victory.
However, the momentum swung once again in the world number one's favour as Murray came out flat for the fourth set.
The final set was another fought tooth and nail as Murray battled back from three games down but Djokovic had enough in the tank to secure the win.
The defeat left Murray still searching for his maiden grand slam title but Djokovic thought the Scot was not far away.
"He's so close to winning a grand slam. He's one of the best players in the world, that's for sure," he said.
Tags: sport, tennis, australian-open, melbourne-3000, vic, australia First posted January 28, 2012 00:40:17