Djokovic, Murray to meet in Aussie semis

Kei Nishikori of Japan (L) shakes hands with Andy Murray of Britain after their men's singles...

Kei Nishikori of Japan (L) shakes hands with Andy Murray of Britain after their men's singles quarter-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Toby Melville)

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, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

MELBOURNE - World No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic and fourth-seeded Andy Murray will meet in a marquee semifinal Friday in a rematch of last year's title match at the Australian Open.

The reigning Aussie Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titlist Djokovic tallied 35 winners in straight-setting fifth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, while the three-time Grand Slam runner-up Murray handled 24th-seeded Japanese Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in Wednesday's quarterfinal action at Melbourne Park's Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic got past Ferrer in 2 hours, 44 minutes by hitting 17 more winners and breaking the Spaniard five times, compared to only two breaks for the loser.

The Serbian slugger needed 76 minutes to win a grueling second set.

"I was lucky to get out of the second set, it was a big mental advantage to get two sets up," Djokovic said.

Djokovic played down the possibility that he was injured, saying: "I don't have any physical issues."

"I feel very fit and I feel mentally, as well, very fresh," he said. "It's just today I found it very difficult after a long time to breathe because I felt the whole day my nose was closed a little bit. I just wasn't able to get enough oxygen."

Djokovic is now 7-5 lifetime against the gritty Ferrer, who titled in Auckland two weeks ago and had been a perfect 8-0 in this young season.

The Serbian star Djokovic straight-setted his fellow 24-year-old Murray in last year's Aussie finale. Murray has appeared in the last two finals in Melbourne, as he lost to Roger Federer here in 2010.

The four-time major champion Djokovic has won two of the last four Aussie Open titles, with his first one coming in 2008.

He has now won 37 of his last 39 Grand Slam matches and is seeking a third straight major title. A championship this week would put him in select company, as only four players -- Laver, Pete Sampras, Federer and Rafael Nadal -- have captured three straight Grand Slam titles in the Open Era (since 1968).

The high-flying Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have combined to win seven of the last eight Aussie Open championships.

The 24th-seeded Nishikori, the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 17 years, provided little more than a speed bump for Murray on Wednesday although he showed a little fight in one of the match's most entertaining points.

Down 30-40 and 1-5 in the third set, Nishikori scrambled to win a long rally with Murray, who was forced to chase down a ball in the back court that he could only send harmlessly to the net.

Nishikori was there for an easy volley, forcing deuce, but Murray followed with a service winner and captured the match on the next point.

"There was quite a few good rallies. I mean, he came up with some good shots," Murray said. "A lot of the long points, the fun rallies he was winning, he came up with some great shots."

The 24-year-old Scot struck 36 winners and won nearly 80% of his first- serve points, while Nishikori piled up 39 unforced errors.

"After a couple games, I was OK," said Nishikori. "He played really well today."

Nishikori was the first Japanese man to reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam event since Shuzo Matsuoka in 1995 (Wimbledon) and the first Japanese man in 80 years to reach the Aussie Open quarters.

Murray was a champion in Brisbane a few weeks ago.

The good friends Djokovic and Murray will meet for an 11th time at the ATP level, with the Serb holding a 6-4 lifetime advantage. Their lone Grand Slam meeting came in last year's final here, which Djokovic won easily, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic is 3-0 when they've met in semifinals of a tournament.

Murray is still looking to break through for his first major title. He said he's not feeling more relaxed on the court based on his recent history, just more experienced.

"Just more used to being in this position because of the experience," Murray said.

The biggest match of the tournament thus far will take place on Thursday night when the former world No. 1 greats Nadal and Federer do battle in the first men's semifinal.

The 25-year-old Nadal and 30-year-old Federer will meet for a 27th time, with the Spaniard leading the all-time series 17-9. Nadal is 7-2 in their Grand Slam meetings, including wins in their last four matchups. The two stalwarts have met in a men's record eight major finals, with Nadal winning six of them.

Nadal and Federer are in the same half of the draw at a major for the first time since 2005.

The fiery Nadal topped Federer in five sets in the 2009 Aussie Open finale.

The second-seeded Nadal is a 10-time major champion and the reigning French Open titlist. The third-seeded Federer, who will appear in his 30th Grand Slam semifinal, is a men's record 16-time Grand Slam champ, including a men's Open Era record-tying four Aussie titles.

Federer, who hasn't won a Grand Slam event since titling here in Melbourne two years ago, has yet to drop a set at this latest Aussie fortnight. He'll appear in his ninth straight Aussie semi on Thursday.


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