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Sunday January 27, 2013

Djokovic and Murray out to settle scores in final

<b>Exciting showdown:</b> Novak Djokovic (left) and Andy Murray will compete for the men’s singles title today. —AFP Exciting showdown: Novak Djokovic (left) and Andy Murray will compete for the men’s singles title today. —AFP

NOVAK Djokovic will chase a hat-trick of Australian Open titles in today’s final against his US Open conqueror Andy Murray, renewing a growing rivalry which dates back to their junior days.

World No. 1 Djokovic thrives on the Melbourne hardcourt surface where he has won three of his five Grand Slams, and is the hot favourite after his brutal semi-final demolition of fourth seed David Ferrer.

The Serb’s confidence is sky-high after his spectacular recovery from his draining five-setter over five hours with Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round, bouncing back with emphatic wins over Tomas Berdych and Ferrer.

Djokovic described his tennis as “incredible” as he flattened Ferrer in less than 90 minutes on Thursday, giving him two full days to rest and prepare – in stark contrast to his build-up 12 months ago.

Then, Djokovic had to dig deep to win the title after fighting off Murray in a five-set semi-final over four hours 50 minutes, ahead of his five hours 53 minutes final triumph over Rafael Nadal, the longest ever match at Melbourne Park.

There’s little wonder the 25-year-old top seed feels he’s in the right frame of mind for the Murray challenge.

“It’s just the conditions in general that I like, especially on Rod Laver Arena. It’s my most successful Grand Slam,” Djokovic said.

“Being in a third consecutive final is an incredible feeling and achievement, I’m so very proud of it.

“I was pushed to the limit in the fourth round and I’ve had some really physically tough matches in this tournament, and I’m glad that I got through it. Right now I feel great on the court.”

Djokovic leads Murray 10-7, with two of the wins at the Australian Open, including a straight-sets win in the 2011 final. Born a week apart, they first met on the junior circuit before they were even teenagers.

“What was he like? Well, I know he had a lot of hair, a lot of curly hair. He was quite pale also,” Djokovic remembered.

But the Ivan Lendl-coached Murray looks a different player now that he has broken through for his maiden Grand Slam title at last September’s US Open, where he beat the Serb in five sets in the final.

Tennis greats Roger Federer and Andre Agassi both believe Djokovic will come through in today’s final.

“Obviously Novak goes in as the favourite, I would think, even though Andy beat him at the US Open,” Federer said. “I give a slight edge to Novak just because of the last couple of days.”

Agassi, who won four of his eight Slam titles in Australia, also fancies the Serbian top seed.

“I certainly would favour at this stage, given the quality of play and the second life that Djokovic has after that Wawrinka match, I would give him the edge,” Agassi said.

In Murray’s favour is that in four of the last five years, the man who played his semi-final second has gone on to win the final. — AFP

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