MELBOURNE, Australia — If anyone knows how Novak Djokovic feels after sweating and scrapping for almost five hours in the Australian Open semifinals, it’s his next opponent — Rafael Nadal.
A day after Nadal beat Roger Federer in four compelling sets, Djokovic dug deep to overcome Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 on Friday night after 4 hours, 50 minutes.
Defending champion Djokovic will face Nadal in a third consecutive Grand Slam final on Sunday. It’s a reversal from three years ago, when Nadal had to regroup after his own lengthy semifinal.
The Spaniard needed 5 hours, 14 minutes in 2009 to get past compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the longest men’s singles match in the tournament’s history. He was so exhausted, he didn’t lift a racket the following day.
Now a weary Djokovic has less than 48 hours to prepare to face Nadal, one of the most fit players in the game.
“I know that I maybe have a mental edge because I’ve won six finals. … We played in 2011 and I’ve had lots of success against him,” the Serbian star said. “That’s going to be my main priority and concern the next day and a half, to physically be able to perform my best and be ready to play five sets.”
After losing the last two finals at the Australian Open, Murray went out a round earlier this time but left more encouraged than ever that he can break through.
“Tonight’s match was important for many reasons,” the 24-year-old Murray said. “Obviously I wanted to win first and foremost. But also sort of after last year, the year that Novak’s had, I think there’s a very fine line between being No. 1 in the world and being 3 or 4. I think that gap, I feel tonight I closed it. My job over the next two or three months is to surpass him and the guys in front of me.”