January 27, 2012
Djokovic rallies past Murray
By SPORTS NETWORK
MELBOURNE - Novak Djokovic will play for a second straight Australian Open title after rallying for a thrilling five-set semifinal win over Andy Murray in a rematch of last year's final.
Djokovic blitzed Murray in straight sets last year to win his second Aussie Open crown on the way to a dominant season that included two more Grand Slam titles and his ascension to the No. 1 ranking in the world.
It was a much different story on Friday in Melbourne, as Djokovic regrouped after dropping a third-set tiebreaker. He then dominated the fourth set before gutting out the last to claim a 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 7-5 triumph in a match that lasted nearly five hours.
"It was a very physical match," Djokovic said afterward. "It was one of the best matches I have played."
Djokovic, who first won this title in 2008, will take on 2009 winner Rafael Nadal for the championship on Sunday. The super Spaniard topped four-time Aussie winner Roger Federer in four sets on Thursday to earn his spot in the final.
"I am extremely delighted to be in to the final round, and what can be a bigger challenge than playing Rafael Nadal," Djokovic continued.
It will mark the third straight Grand Slam final matchup for Djokovic and Nadal. The Serb won each of the other two, taking Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- both in four sets.
Djokovic dominated Nadal last year, winning all six of their matchups. All six came in finals, as Djokovic also prevailed on clay in Madrid and Rome and on hardcourts in Miami and Indian Wells.
Nadal still owns a 16-13 overall record against Djokovic. Sunday will mark their first meeting in Melbourne. Nadal will be trying for his 11th career Grand Slam championship, while Djokovic will be gunning for his fifth.
In addition, a Djokovic win Sunday would put him in select company, as only four players -- Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Federer and Nadal -- have captured three straight Grand Slam titles in the Open Era (since 1968).
Djokovic appeared to have Friday's match in hand with a 5-2 lead in the fifth set, but Murray found another gear.
It appeared a Murray hold of serve would only force Djokovic to serve out the match, but the Scot won the first point of the ninth game and picked up steam. He turned the tables completely and broke at love before a solid hold deadlocked the set at 5-5.
The momentum continued into the next game, as Murray held two break points at 15-40. He netted a forehand return, then couldn't handle a perfectly-placed Djokovic forehand on the line to end a 30-stroke rally. After quickly gaining a third break point, Murray netted a backhand return of a second serve and Djokovic eventually managed to hold for 6-5.
Djokovic then grabbed control of the next game by winning three of the first four points and quickly put Murray on the run. Murray was unable to chase down a Djokovic volley and sent the ball into the net, finally ending the marathon just 10 minutes short of five hours.
For Murray, who still in search of that elusive first Grand Slam title, the loss also ended his run of two straight Aussie Open title match appearances. He lost to Federer in the 2010 final before falling to Djokovic last year.
Murray was in position to make it three straight finals in Melbourne.
After a split of the first two sets, Murray won the third in a dramatic tiebreaker. He was unable to carry that momentum into the fourth, as Djokovic gained a pair of early breaks and stormed through in just 25 minutes to set up the deciding set.
Djokovic had three break-point opportunities in the fourth game of the fifth set, but could not convert any. Murray saved the first with an ace before a forehand into the net by Djokovic preserved the second. After a forehand winner by the Serb set up a third chance, Murray blistered another serve that Djokovic could not handle.
Murray went on to win the next two points to finally hold, but Djokovic was undeterred and held at love in the following game for a 3-2 lead.
Djokovic again put pressure on the Murray serve in the sixth game. Murray saved one break point with a serve and volley that forced Djokovic's passing shot error. However, he couldn't save another. Djokovic finally prevailed for a 4-2 edge with a perfect backhand return that put Murray on the run and set up a forehand winner.
Murray, who won the Australian Open tuneup in Brisbane three weeks ago, fell to 4-7 all-time against Djokovic and 0-4 when the two have met in a tournament semifinal.
Djokovic will try for his 29th career title on Sunday, while Nadal is in search of his 47th.
The winner will pocket a first prize of more than $2.4 million.