MELBOURNE, Australia — It took just under five hours, but Novak Djokovic finally beat Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 on Friday to reach the Australian Open final. Djokovic will take on Rafael Nadal, who knocked off Roger Federer in four sets in the first semifinal match on Thursday.
It was a topsy-turvy spectacle that saw both men seize momentum, with long, physical rallies taking their toll over the course of the match. Murray was able to climb back from 5-2 down in the fifth set, breaking Djokovic while he was serving for the match. But the Serb rebounded, as he has done consistently for more than a year now, saving a crucial break point with a forehand down-the-line winner that was reminiscent, in guts if nothing else, of his incredible forehand return against Roger Federer to save match point at last year’s U.S. Open. After surviving Murray’s late surge, Djokovic broke the Scot for the match to move a step closer to defending his title.
“As a tennis player, you practice hard every single day knowing that you will get an opportunity to be part of such a great match and on such a high level,” Djokovic said.
“I’m proud of the way I fought,” said Murray, who was dominated by Djokovic in last year’s final here.
Murray described it as an “up-and-down match” in which Djokovic played “just a little bit better.”
Said Murray: “Sometimes you come off the court and you’ve played really badly, you haven’t quite been there mentally, and then you’re really disappointed with yourself because you’ve let yourself down. I don’t feel like I’ve let myself down today. “
Here’s game-by-game analysis of a wild Australian Open semifinal match.
8:39 a.m. ET | Djokovic wins set 7-5, wins match 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5
At 15-15, Murray sends a backhand slice long and chides himself to “hit it.” A little too late for that, as an error off Murray’s racket gives Djokovic two match points at 15-40.
He runs Murray back and forth and finally closes out the match with a volley winner, falls to his back in celebration. Just like his final opponent last night, Djokovic celebrates as if he’s won the tournament, applauding Murray as he quickly exits the court.
Once again, Novak Djokovic comes back from the brink and the difference was his fitness and his confidence. He never lost belief even when getting broken while serving for the match, and when he was up against the wall, he had the confidence to go for that forehand winner to save break point. Ridiculous stuff from the world No. 1, who sends his good friend packing after four hours and fifty minutes of brutal tennis.
Ice baths on the house, gentlemen. What a show.
8:32 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 6-5
Murray gets to love-15 and on the next point hits a lob that’s close, but called out. Too bad for Murray: he doesn’t have any challenges left, but if it makes him feel better I’m happy to report that ESPN’s shot spot showed it was indeed out.
Murray steps up in the next point and ends a brutal rally with a screaming forehand winner that makes Chris Fowler exclaim “Where is this coming from?” Indeed. A Djokovic backhand error gives the Bravehearted Scot two break points. But Djokovic saves both and a 29-shot rally that saw the two go backhand to backhand for much of it ends when Djokovic pulls the trigger with a perfect forehand down the line. He lifts his racket, looks to the crowd and pounds his chest. Which one is Braveheart? I forget now.
Djokovic saves another break point on a Murray backhand error but sends a backhand wide on game point and we’re back at deuce. Djokovic serves a clutch second serve into Murray’s body, forcing him to send the return long and then finishes the game with a swinging forehand volley to hold, firing up a fist pump.
That forehand down the line on break point may have just saved Djokovic’s Australian Open. Incredible.
8:22 a.m. ET | Set tied 5-5
It says so much about Djokovic’s confidence these days that he just got broken at love and he looks nonplused. The Serb still has that look of belief, whereas Murray is scratching and clawing and fighting. Djokovic doesn’t look worried about it at all, it’s … scary.
Murray’s fight has united the crowd to root for the underdog and the Scot is loving it, urging them on and riling them up. He holds with relative ease and he can breathe a sigh of relief… For now.
8:18 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 5-4
Murray. Stays. Alive.
Huge effort to battle through a 20-plus shot rally to go to love-15, and that point seems to have taken out Djokovic’s legs. He misses a backhand to go down love-30 and then Murray lines up a huge cut at a forehand that lands in the corner to get triple break point. He converts on the next point and Rod Laver Arena erupts.
Murray still has to hold though, and he’s shown a propensity to let down after these big games.
8:12 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 5-3
It gets dicey for Andy Murray, but he holds out a deuce game to force Djokovic to serve for the match. Murray’s legs are clearly gone. If you were to tell me his fitness would be a big factor in this match I would have rolled my eyes. Really surprising from a defensive player who usually moves so well.
8:06 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 5-2
Djokovic consolidates the break with a love hold and he’s one game away from meeting Rafael Nadal, his 2011 pigeon, in the final.
In case anyone was watching the ‘Tug-o-Meter,’ it just jumped in that game. Andy yanked his collar after yet another miss.
This has been some impressive stuff from Djokovic, who still has that swagger of a guy who thinks he can’t lose.
8: 03 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 4-2
Murray has now run out of challenges. He’ll get more if this gets to 6-all but that’s looking unlikely now.
Murray went from up 30-love to down a break point, but Djokovic completely bails him out. Murray fires a huge serve out wide, Djokovic gets the return back low, which forces Murray to play a volley back to the middle of the court that sits up. Djokovic has all day to line up a forehand pass, but pulls it wide.
Djokovic gets another break point and this time he doesn’t miss. Murray is in control of the point until Djokovic throws up a defensive lob that lands in Murray’s forehand corner. Murray scrambles and leaves a mid court sitter that Djokovic nails for the winner.
7:56 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 3-2
Nope. Djokovic holds at love. Nothing to see here. Move along.
7:53 a.m. ET | Set tied 2-2
Four hours have now passed and Djokovic burns his second challenge of the set on the first point of the game. Djokovic is still playing some back-breaking defense and Murray is trying to dictate points to sporadic success. Sometimes he makes his move to get back to the baseline and he almost runs into his forehand, sending it long (30-15 an example).
At 30-30, Djokovic is able to push Murray back off the line with some punishing forehands and he earns a break point, which he saves with an ace. He fires a silent fist pump at his box but proceeds to double fault to give Djokovic another break point. Djokovic sends a forehand into the net and pleads with his racket to help him out.
No help from stubborn equipment. Djokovic works Murray left and right on the next point and gets a short ball to put away on his forehand and sends it long to give Murray game point.
This is turning into what feels like the game of the match. Back at deuce after a blistering inside out forehand winner, Djokovic gets his third break point of the game with a forehand return winner on a weak second serve.
But Murray doesn’t back down. He buckles down and gets three service winners and it’s 2-2. Huge hold for Murray there. Will we see a letdown from Novak in this next game?
7:44 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 2-1
At 15-30, Murray hugs the baseline and dictates the point, yanking Djokovic all over the court before the Serb sends a forehand long. After, Djokovic drops his racket and crouches down wincing, breathing heavily now and taking an inordinate amount of time between points. But Djokovic throws in a clutch serve to get to game point, which he converts when Murray sends a forehand long.
Djokovic keeps hiding under a towel while he eats something on the changeover. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that whatever he’s eating is gluten-free. Other than that we have no idea what it is.
7:40 a.m. ET | Set tied 1-1
Murray’s going to have to do what Djokovic did in the third set. He needs to focus on holding his serve and hope that a burst of adrenaline will eventually get his legs going. This is all about match management now. Murray holds at 15 to get on the board. That has to give him some confidence.
But he’s still retreating into the back of the court, which isn’t going to serve him well against an offensive player like Djokovic. Murray needs to hug that baseline as much as possible.
7:36 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 1-0
Murray changes his shirt to white, but that’s the only thing that’s changed between these two sets. He’s is still showing heavy legs and, quite frankly, things aren’t looking good for him as he’s getting a slow jump on the ball and his side to side movement is non-existent. Djokovic holds easily to start the final set.
7:31 a.m. ET | Djokovic wins set 6-1
Four straight return winners from Djokovic and he breaks at love to pocket the fourth set 6-1. That set took a mere 24 minutes, which is less than the first three games in the fourth set combined.
Murray wasn’t smart to allow himself to get broken so easily there. It gives Novak the chance to serve first in the fifth set, a huge advantage. Let’s see if Murray can knuckle down in this first game to send a message that he’s not as checked out as he seemed in the last 25 minutes. If Djokovic holds to love, London, we have a problem.
7:28 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 5-1
Some lazy points from Djokovic on his serve and he gives Murray two break points, which could convince Murray to get back in this set. But two backhand errors from Murray gives them away and Djokovic holds.
The guys are playing very short points now and you have to worry if Murray’s going to be able to find his rhythm when the fifth set begins. He’s looking lazy out there, whereas Djokovic is soaring.
7:25 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 4-1
Murray finally holds at 30 to get on the board, but Djokovic is looking more and more fresh. He’s bouncing around, looking relaxed and taking some good cuts on the ball.
After 18 forehand winners for Murray (compared to 11 for Djokovic) for the match, and the Scot is actually up overall on the winner count, hitting 40 for the match to Djokovic’s 30.
7:21 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 4-0
Another love hold for Djokovic and it looks like Murray’s going to concede this set and save up his energy for the fifth set.
7:18 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 3-0
And there it is. Murray has heavy legs and a heavy cranium. On break point he successfully lobs Djokovic who sprints to chase it down and instead of coming in behind the lob to close at the net, Murray just stands on the baseline. When Djokovic sends a neutral ball back to the middle of the court, Murray yanks the ball wide to hand over the break.
It’s 3-0 to the Serb and, with Djokovic up two breaks, a fifth set seems almost guaranteed now.
7:15 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 2-0
Djokovic responds with his first love hold of the match. This next game will be huge for Murray. If he can’t hold, this set will run away from him quickly and Djokovic will be able to conserve his energy for a fifth.
7:11 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 1-0
This is by far the best Murray has played against the top guys at a Slam, but he can still get in his own way. He comes out and plays a brain-fart of a game to get broken immediately to start the fourth set, throwing in three unforced errors including one unforgivable volley smash that he sends long. Not the message he wants to send to Djokovic, nor a lead he wants to give the Serb from the get-go.
7:06 a.m. ET | Murray wins set 7-6 (4)
The men change sides and Murray fires a 128 mph ace down the tee to build his lead to 5-3 after Djokovic sends a backhand long. Murray keeps it rolling and gets three set points after yanking Djokovic side to side and finishing off the point with a forehand winner. Even Kim Sears got up for that one. Djokovic saves one set point with some aggressive hitting off his forehand side, showing flashes of that “I just close my eyes and hit it” mentality that bounced Roger Federer from two Slam semifinals in 2011, but on his second set point, Murray hits a well-placed serve out wide and Djokovic sends the return wide.
Huge roar from Andy as he looks to his box, and after 3 hours and 20 minutes, with that set lasting an hour and 28 minutes alone, Andy Murray is one set away from beating the top-ranked player.
7:01 a.m. ET | Tiebreaker tied 3-3
Murray gets the mini break thanks to a Dolgopolovian slice forehand. The Serb gets it right back thanks to some ridiculous speed to get up to a short angled drop shot that would have been a winner against anyone else. Like I said, not so tired anymore is Mr. Djokovic.
With Djokovic serving at 1-2, Murray steps way into the court on a second serve return and Djokovic double faults. They trade blows in a 17-shot rally that Murray ends when he sends the easiest shot he had in that point long. Jelena Ristic, Djokovic’s girlfriend is on her feet urging her man on. Kim Sears, Murray’s girlfriend, looks like she has her heart in her throat.
Djokovic wins another long rally (18 shots) to even things up at 3-3. Very little separating these two at the moment, though Djokovic has been the more successful aggressor so far in this tiebreak. Edge to him, I think.
6:56 a.m. ET | Set tied 6-6
An incredible pickup from Djokovic, somehow able to hit a pitch-perfect lob from the baseline on a screaming running crosscourt get from Murray. The shot seems to have taken some air out of Murray’s sails. He double faults on the next point and then sends a lazy forehand long to give Djokovic two break points and the Scot roars in frustration. Djokovic handcuffs Murray with a forehand and he awkwardly sends the ball wide.
Djokovic has broken back, we’re into a tiebreak, and the Serb lets loose a huge fist pump as his box jumps to their feet in support.
6:51 a.m. ET | Murray leads 6-5
No heavy-headed signs of fatigue anymore from Djokovic. He’s refocused and running for everything. How he doesn’t snap in half on some of these splits is beyond me. At 15-30, Murray, after trading some soft ground strokes with Djokovic, lets loose a forehand crosscourt winner out of nowhere. On his second break point Murray plays some staggering tennis, sprinting from corner to corner and absorbing Djokovic’s pace to finally get the Serb to hit long.
What a turn of events. Murray gets the break and he’ll serve for a 2-1 lead. This set has been brutal. 74 minutes and counting.
6:45 a.m. ET | Set tied 5-5
Murray starts the game with a 90 mph first serve. Not surprisingly he loses the point, bends over and screams. But Djokovic goes on to bail him out, missing two relatively easy returns on Murray’s suddenly-softer serve. The Serb has his forehand down the line locked in though, as he hits two for winners.
At 30-30 Murray redirects a forehand long and Djokovic, somewhat miraculously, has a set point. Murray responds by hitting his biggest serve of the set, a 129 mph ace out wide. He goes for a big serve out wide again on the next point but Djokovic is there, cracking a return crosscourt, eventually winning the point at the net. Murray saves another set point with a forehand crosscourt winner that lands right on the line, but Djokovic gets another set point when Murray can’t put away a volley and hits an overhead backhand smash into the net. Murray saves another set point with a perfect drop shot that Djokovic gets to, but the Scot is there to redirect the volley down the line for a winner. Finally, at the three-hour mark of the match, Murray holds and Djokovic shoots his box a smile. He was an inch from a 2-1 lead, but credit to Murray for being bold at the biggest moment.
Incredible game there from both men.
6:36 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 5-4
Djokovic was up 40-15 but once gets stuck in another deuce game. Murray goes for a backhand down the line that misses and, unless someone’s doctored the tape, I think the Scot actually smiled after the miss. Djokovic holds to 5-4 and Murray will have to serve to stay in the set.
Here are some stats that prove Murray’s tactical decision to take something off his serve in this set. In the second set he served at 49 percent but hit four aces, and his average serve speed was 119 mph. This set? 70 percent first serves in, no aces, and average serve speed is 110 mph. I’m not convinced this is going to work for him.
6:29 a.m. ET | Set tied 4-4
Murray’s been spinning his serves in this set, taking a lot of pace off the ball. He’s probably thinking he can beat Djokovic in the rally and wants to make the exhausted Serb work his legs on every point. That’s a dangerous tactic. You’d think he’d just keep with what worked for him in the second set, which was serving aggressively.
He quickly finds himself down love-30 but settles down to win the next four points, dictating with his forehand from the middle of the court in a 23-shot rally that he finishes with a forehand winner.
6:26 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 4-3
Djokovic fires down an ace on the first point and raises his hands up to the heavens in a display of “Thank you very much” and “Finally!” He hits two aces in that game and finally holds in the third set without having to go to deuce.
6:23 a.m. ET | Set tied 3-3
Murray with a relatively easy hold. He’s getting to the net nicely and has actually been to the net more than Djokovic, going 13/17 compared to 9/12 for Djokovic.
6:18 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 3-2
Murray gets to love-30 on Djokovic’s serve yet again, and for the second time this set he can’t capitalize. He’s starting to misfire on that forehand again and Djokovic did well to dig himself out of that game.
For all of Djokovic’s lollygagging between points, his sneakers are screeching with his splits out wide. But he dropped down for some deep knee bends between points trying to stretch himself out.
6:10 a.m. ET | Set tied 2-2
It’s not a break until you consolidate, and on the first point of Murray’s serve, Djokovic steps in and fires a return winner right down the line. He’s staggering between points but he’s looking to blast the ball during the point. This could play right into Murray’s hands or it could go straight to Murray’s head.
So far, it looks like it’s gone to his head, as the Scot plays a sloppy game and gives the break back. We’re back on serve and I suspect Novak will feel like he’s got new life now.
6:05 a.m. ET | Murray leads 2-1
For the second straight service game, Murray gets to love-30 on Djokovic’s serve. And on his 8th break point of the set, Murray breaks on an overhead smash and Djokovic is left bent with his forearm across his knee. He’s either struggling physically or he should get an Oscar nomination.
That was 27 minutes for three games.
6:00 a.m. ET | Set tied 1-1
After missing out on five break chances in the first game, this service game is big for Murray. He gets into a 15-30 hole and for the first time in the match he lets out some frustration, berating himself after a backhand error. That seemed to have worked and he responds with a couple of flat forehand winners to seal the game.
He’s been remarkably positive throughout this match. It’s like I don’t even know him anymore.
5:56 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 1-0
The stat sheet bears out the story of that last set, as Murray went from hitting four winners in the first set to 14 in the second, while Djokovic kept a steady rate of five winners for each set. But while the Serb served superbly in the first set (70 percent) he dipped to 40 percent in the second, giving Murray more opportunity to get into the rallies from a neutral position. How will the No. 1 respond in this third set?
Murray gets to love-30 on Djokovic’s serve, but Djokovic finally decided to start hitting the ball and keeping the rallies short. He blasts two great backhand winners before misfiring on another, giving Murray break point. Murray sends a slice long that Djokovic correctly challenges. It was well out. Clearly we have the B-team officiating today.
But Djokovic is committed to gripping and ripping right now and when he connects he’s hitting right through Murray. He saves another break point with a fierce forehand down the line, but follows it up with a lazy backhand miss that shows his feet just aren’t moving as well as they were an hour ago.
So it’s defense versus offense in this first game and it’s just up to Djokovic to execute. He saves five break points after an 18-minute game and Murray really did nothing wrong there. Nice battle from the Serb who still looks weary.
5:36 a.m. ET | Murray wins second set 6-3
Some sloppy errors come creeping in for Murray, and he gives Djokovic two break points when he duffs a backhand from the middle of the court into the net. He saves one with an ace and another on an errant forehand. Now it’s Djokovic who’s losing the battle for court position. Murray is on the baseline and Djokovic is a few feet back.
A 21-shot rally at deuce and Djokovic pulls the trigger on a forehand that goes long, bends over and grabs his knees in exhaustion. The Serb is feeling it. Murray seals the set with an ace and trots to his bench, while Djokovic looks a bit dazed and confused. Are the long rallies taking their toll or is Djokovic just frustrated that he’s lost his lead in the match? He’s moving very sluggishly at times.
One set all. A surprising shift in momentum.
5:29 a.m. ET | Murray leads 5-3
A 41-shot rally that saw a lot of slicing and jabbing groundstrokes, with both daring each other to pull the trigger, ends with Murray putting a backhand into the net. But he is still up 15-30 on Djokovic’s serve, and a 28-shot rally that curiously had Djokovic walk, almost limply, over to a ball that he could have smashed, ends when Murray scrambles back into the point and Djokovic hits a forehand wide. That was bizarre to see. Djokovic gets a soft warning from the chair to speed up his time between serves and it’s a whole lot of negative body language coming from the Serb.
Murray breaks and he’ll serve for the second set.
And here’s a stat: Average length of rally: eight shots.
5:22 a.m. ET | Murray leads 4-3
Murray hands Djokovic a break point when he puts too much work on a mid court forehand and pulls it wide of the tramline. But on the next point he gets Djokovic on the run and sneaks in for a volley that Djokovic lobs deep. Murray scrambles back and hits a twirling forehand, and Djokovic’s response sails long. Murray shakes a fist pump at his box and, I kid you not, Ivan Lendl threw up an animated fist pump. History-making stuff here, folks.
But it’s all for naught. Murray double faults to give Djokovic another break point and a forehand into the net gives the Serb the break. You get the sense that if Djokovic can just weather this surge in Murray’s play, his consistency and steadiness will win him the day. He still doesn’t look like he’s red-lining his game at all.
5:15 a.m. ET | Murray leads 4-2
Well look at that. Djokovic sticks to his patterns and pulls Murray wide to his forehand, which has worked all night, but Murray answers with a running crosscourt winner. That has to be the first one he’s landed all match. He backs it up with a scorching forehand pass and it looks like Andy Murray’s forehand has finally arrived at Rod Laver Arena. Those two blows have woken Djokovic up though, who’s now hitting with more aggression on each shot. He pulls Murray out wide again but he’s ready for the crosscourt forehand this time, sitting in the forehand corner and redirecting it down the line for a winner to get to 30-30.
The guys play out a 30-point rally and all of a sudden it seems Murray can’t miss that running forehand, earning a break point when Djokovic puts a forehand into the net. On a backhand error sent long, Murray gets the break.
I liked Djokovic’s response in that game. He took control of the rallies and put more pace on his shots, but Murray’s clearly picked up his game. He’s not the unforced error machine he was in the first set.
5:08 a.m. ET | Murray leads 3-2
Andy Murray’s good friend Dani Vallverdu is up on his feet fist-pumping as Murray holds at 15. So the Scot consolidates the break and is up 3-2. He finished the game with an unnecessarily violent smash on a point that Djokovic gave up on and it looked like the Serb shot him a look. Could that be the spark that ignites Djokovic’s game?
5:03 a.m. ET | Set tied 2-2
Murray does his best Pete Sampras impression and goes flying up in the air for an overhead smash. He started this game much more aggressively, hitting two flat crosscourt backhands that allowed him to finish with a smash at the net. But then he drops back into his shell and loops his forehand to Djokovic’s backhand, who eventually works the point to get an inside-out forehand that he crushes for a winner. The long rallies favor the Serb, who gets back to 30-30. He’s serving incredibly well for the match, even firing his second serve in the 120 mph range.
Murray saves game point on a scrambling backhand winner that comes off a mishit overhead from Djokovic, and then earns a break point with a backhand down-the-line winner. He’s reduced the number of unforced errors in this game, which has evened things up with Djokovic, who still hasn’t found his best.
A grueling deuce game, and Murray’s broken back to even the set and Djokovic will regret that mishit overhead at game point. Huge game for the Scot. But he’s shown a tendency to let down after big games like that.
4:52 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 2-1
Djokovic has the eyesight of a falcon. Stops play to challenge a ball that was one-millimeter out.
At love-30, Murray fires a forehand cross-court that actually allows him to take control of the rally and force a Djokovic error. But the Scot can’t get out of his own way, double-faulting on game point and his 30th unforced error of the match gives Djokovic break point.
But Djokovic, on the verge of turning the screws in on his friend, bails him out with a poorly-executed drop shot that falls into the net.
Stat that made me go “Huh?!?”: Murray’s hit more winners so far, 7 to Djokovic’s 5. But if you combine winners and forced errors, Djokovic is ahead 15 to 13.
4:46 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 2-0
During a 24-shot rally, the longest of the match, Murray actually gets some running forehands over the net, and his defense forces Djokovic to go for too much on a forehand down the line, which he sends long to give Murray a 15-30 lead in Djokovic’s service game. But another forehand miss from Murray on a neutral ball levels it at 30-30, a backhand miss gets it to 40-30, and after another backhand miss from the middle of the court gives Djokovic a 2-0 lead in the second set.
4:39 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 1-0
Margaret Court is also watching in the crowd. She’s not wearing a rainbow.
Murray actually hit a forehand winner! I double checked the video replay and indeed, it was a forehand. Even Djokovic is shocked. It wasn’t even that great of a shot and he applauded it.
Murray’s getting no free points on his first serve and gets broken on a backhand miss that causes him to drop his head in frustration a la Charlie Brown. If he doesn’t make any tactical changes soon, he’s toast. Djokovic isn’t even playing that well and he looks like he’s unbothered by what Murray’s throwing at him.
Murray needs to hit his forehand. Preferably into the court. Preferably.
4:32 a.m. ET | Djokovic wins set 6-3
At 15-15, Djokovic gives Murray a sitting ball in the middle of the court and Murray doesn’t take a swing at it, instead opting to put some air under it and continue the rally. Not surprisingly, he lost the point.
Djokovic is successfully pulling Murray wide to the forehand which he keeps trying, and failing, to yank back cross court. Easy pattern for Djokovic, which he’s wisely sticking to. Murray missed three running forehands in that game and Djokovic takes the set 6-3.
The key to that first set, apart from the effectiveness with which the Serb is attacking the Murray forehand, was his ability to keep his first serve percentage up when he saw Murray was prepared to step in and attack the second serve. He served at 70 percent and only had one ace, which seems to indicate he’d rather get that serve in and start the point than risk giving the Scot a look at his second serve, which can drop short.
Murray hit 20 unforced errors in that set, 12 off his forehand alone.
4:27 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 5-3
A good Hawkeye challenge from the Scot overturns a call that would have given Djokovic a love-30 lead on Murray’s serve. Instead it was 15-15 and Murray is able to hold. Djokovic will serve for the set as Murray switches rackets for the new balls.
4:23 a.m ET | Djokovic leads 5-2
Vlade Divac in the house! And no, he’s not sitting in Murray’s box. He is firmly entrenched with the Serbs, fist pumping right along side Djokovic.
Murray’s not doing any damage at all. He hasn’t done anything to make Djokovic think he can hurt him and he’s already hit 17 unforced errors through seven games, though Djokovic has hit 12 himself.
The Serb holds with an ace and Murray’s serving to stay in the set.
4:18 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 4-2
Djokovic seems to be struggling with his breathing, something he complained about in last match against Ferrer, but it’s not affecting his play so far.
Murray throws in another bad game, getting broken at love after committing three unforced errors in the game. Not a great start for either man so far.
4:14 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 3-2
That Murray forehand is working against him. It’s landing short and Djokovic is still attacking it. The Serb is playing solid, he’s steady and his court coverage is putting pressure on Murray. The Scot is struggling to open up the court to create an open alley for a winner.
But Djokovic double faults on game point. Murray saves another game point with his speed after Djokovic pulls the ripcord on the rally with a drop shot that Murray gets to and smacks crosscourt. On the next point, Djokovic hits a forehand volley into the bottom of the net to give Murray break point, which Murray seals with a flat backhand down the line. A loud “Come On!” from Murray and we’re back on serve.
4:06 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 3-1
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is on site, but the crowd isn’t exactly loving it. They started booing her when she came on the Jumbotron. Awk-ward.
It’s a warm night here in Melbourne, much warmer and humid than last night. That means the flying critters are in full-effect, as Murray has to step off the line to swat them away, a gesture known down here as “The Aussie Salute.”
After all the positive stuff from Murray he throws in a horrible game to get broken. Plays way too defensive in the first point, duffs a volley into the net and then eventually double faults on game point. Murray understandably annoyed with himself. Get that Tug-o-meter ready.
4:01 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 2-1
Djokovic is the one with the negative body language early, slumping his shoulders after he misses his first serve and shouting at his box. Murray is making his presence known early and returning Djokovic’s second serve from inside the baseline. He hit one backhand return for a winner but missed two forehand returns. It’s a positive sign that Murray isn’t going to slip back into his defensive shell.
Murray earns a break point on a Djokovic forehand shank, but a missed return gets it to deuce and Djokovic slips away with the game. Liking what I see from Murray so far, while Djokovic is showing early signs of frustration.
3:55 a.m. ET | Set tied 1-1
Good news and bad news for Murray right out of the gate. Djokovic knows the Scot’s forehand can break down and he doesn’t seem scared of it. Two forehand errors get Murray into a love-30 hole, but then he steps up in a long rally to fire a backhand down-the-line winner. So far, his positioning is great, hugging the baseline and holding his own in the rally. Djokovic earns two break points when he shows off his speed to get to a drop shot with plenty of time. Murray saves both break points and his scrambling defense gets him the hold.
So positive stuff from Murray so far. But there’s still too much air under his forehand. Djokovic knows that if he can get it to Murray’s forehand he’ll take control of the point.
3:47 a.m. ET | Djokovic leads 1-0
Djokovic begins the match with a straightforward hold.
Court positioning will be key throughout the match. Djokovic has shown greater consistency and willingness to hug the baseline, whereas Murray’s past tendency was to float back and end up sprinting back and forth over the Melbourne signage. He’s been much better about staying forward through the fortnight, but he hasn’t faced the offensive power that Djokovic brings.
Andy Murray, dressed in his signature orange and blue Adidas kit, and Novak Djokovic, rocking the spirographed white Sergio Tachinni duds, walk out to a loud ovation for their men’s semifinal tilt. The crowd sounds 60-40 for Djokovic, who’s the clear favorite tonight and rightfully so.
“I’ve always liked playing against him,” Murray said after his quarterfinal win. “And, yeah, after the year that he had, the loss didn’t look so bad six months later. But I’d like to get the chance to play him again. It would be a good marker to see how I’ve improved since last year.”
A good marker, indeed. Much like last night’s semifinal between Nadal and Federer, this match will set the stage for the year for each man, as Murray looks to improve on his performance here last year and Djokovic tries to replicate his incredible year.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, always had lots of respect for him,” Djokovic said. “I think it’s mutual. Our friendship and rivalry, you can call it, goes back a long time. It’s great to see that somebody who you grow up next to is doing well. This is going to be another great challenge for both of us.”
Murray’s done well to keep his negative emotions in check throughout the fortnight, so keep an eye out for Gilbert’s “Tug-o-meter.” If Murray gets negative early, this could be short work for the World No. 1.
Murray won the toss and deferred the choice, Djokovic chose the far end, and Murray chose to receive. That seemed unnecessarily complicated.
Here we go.