Defending champion Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5 to reach the final of the Australian Open on Friday. – PHOTO: AP
Andy Murray’s Australian Open challenge ended in a five-set semi-final defeat to defending champion Novak Djokovic.
World number one Djokovic prevailed 6-3 3-6 6-7 (4/7) 6-1 7-5 in four hours and 50 minutes to set up a title showdown with second-ranked Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
In a repeat of last year’s final, Djokovic once again got the better of his British opponent, although on this occasion he was made to work much harder than his straight-sets success on that occasion.
Murray recovered from the loss of the opener to win the next two sets and, later on in the decider, broke Djokovic to love when the Serb served for the match at 5-3.
But Djokovic had the final say, saving three break points before holding for 6-5 and then closing out the result by breaking world number four Murray in the next.
Djokovic claimed the opening set 6-3 in 47 minutes, an early exchange of breaks followed by the Serb making the decisive move in the sixth game.
Murray tamely fell 0-40 down on his own delivery and Djokovic took full advantage before going on to serve out the set without alarm.
And things looked bleak for Murray after he dropped serve in the opening game of the second set and Djokovic followed up with a hold for 2-0.
But Murray saved a break point in the next game, an escape that turned his aggression levels up a notch and started a run of four straight games.
Djokovic’s serve was by now badly misfiring, he was broken three times in a row to surrender the second set 6-3 and, as had been the case in his quarter-final win over David Ferrer, appeared to be in some physical discomfort between points.
Djokovic staved off five break points in the opening game of the third set but there was no reprieve when Murray threatened again at 1-1, some hard-hitting from the baseline presenting him with the chance to finish the game with a smash which he converted with ease.
Once again, though, Murray promptly tossed his advantage away. From 15-15, he served a double fault and followed it up with a loose forehand and a long backhand as the set moved back on serve.
Murray had his chances in the next game only for Djokovic to hold for 3-2 and finally display some positive body language with a clenched fist and a loud roar to the crowd. Two routine holds followed before Murray found himself under threat when serving at 3-4.
Djokovic moved out to a 0-30 lead but Murray regained his composure and some wonderful hitting from the back of the court saw him avert danger.
Murray again escaped when serving at 4-5 down, saving the first of three set points with an ace, the second with a crushing forehand winner and the third with a drop shot-clipped backhand combination.
Sensing he had got out of jail, Murray struck for 6-5, bringing up his second break-point chance after some outstanding defence.
But he followed up with a string of errors to allow Djokovic to level for a tie-break, only for Murray to play a solid breaker to win it 7-4 and edge two sets to one ahead.
Djokovic was not going to give up his title without a fight, though, and took the match all the way by dominating the fourth set 6-1 in 25 minutes, Murray’s footwork having gone AWOL.
Murray twice battled to hold at the start of the final set but could not do so for a third time, Djokovic breaking through for a 4-2 lead before a hold for each man left the Serb serving for the match.
He did not manage to win even a point, Murray breaking back to love to reduce his deficit to 5-4 and then holding with ease to leave us all square once again as the match approached the five-hour mark.
Murray had three break points in the 11th game, Djokovic shutting the door on each occasion.
And then Djokovic seized his chance to seal victory with a break in the next game, ensuring Murray’s wait for a maiden grand slam title continues.