MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic is poised to enter Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg territory as he chases a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title in Sunday’s final against Andy Murray.
The peerless world number one is strongly favoured to deny Murray for a fourth time in the Melbourne final and secure a victory which would push him further up the list of the sport’s greats.
Should he again vanquish the world number two, Djokovic will join Borg and Laver with 11 Grand Slam titles, and equal Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian crowns — and all at the age of just 28.
Djokovic destroyed the all-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in Thursday’s semi-final to yet again underline his dominance in the men’s game, and enter his fifth straight major final.
“Fighting for a Grand Slam trophy is a pinnacle of our sport. This is exactly where you want to be,” Djokovic told reporters on Saturday.
“You work hard to put yourself in this position. Of course, adding to that the fact that I am able to make history is just an additional encouragement and incentive for me to do well.
“If you want to win Grand Slam titles and be the best in the world, you have to win against the best players in the world. Going to be ready for that.”
This will be the 31st meeting between the pair in a rivalry that goes back to their junior days.
Murray is just seven days older than the Serb and while he enjoyed some success earlier on the professional tour, Djokovic has won 10 of their last 11 encounters.
Djokovic holds a 6-2 win-loss record against the Scot in Slams and a 3-2 advantage in major finals. There is not much each other does not know about the other’s game.
“It’s two games that are very much alike, so it’s basically who’s going to outplay who from the baseline,” Djokovic said.
“I think serve is an important factor in tomorrow’s match. I think both of us will try to serve high percentage of first serves and not allow the other player to attack the second serve too many times.
“Yeah, a lot about tactics and a lot about how you handle your emotions of the greatness of that occasion of playing for the Grand Slam title.”
Djokovic wore down Murray in last year’s attritional final, in which the first two sets lasted two-and-a-half hours, and is renowned for his powers of endurance.
Djokovic mastered Rafael Nadal in the longest ever Grand Slam final in five hours, 53 minutes at the 2012 Australian Open, and last year he won the physical battle as he put away Murray in four sets.
As well as his three losses to Djokovic in the Melbourne Park final in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the Scot also went down to Federer in the title match in 2010.
“I don’t think many people are expecting me to win on Sunday,” Murray said. “I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it and play well.
“But the previous disappointments, it’s one tennis match. Doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past really. It’s about what happens on Sunday.”
Djokovic, while confident of another victory, knows what lies ahead in Sunday’s decider between two patient, defensive players.
“I’m expecting a battle with Andy, as it always is. Very physically demanding match. Lots of rallies, exchanges. It’s no secret we know how we play against each other,” he said.
Murray’s second serve, once considered a weakness, has more power and the extra oomph gives him more weapons to complement his already formidable return and defensive game.
“There has been a lot of talks about his second serve, and I’m sure he and his team are very much aware of that,” Djokovic said.
“But on the other hand, I’m also working on things to improve, and I’m sure that we will try to explore each other’s weaknesses tomorrow and see what happens.”