MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic is expecting a fierce battle with an old friend and familiar protagonist when he makes a bid for history in the Australian Open final against Andy Murray on Sunday.
Born a week apart 28 years ago, Djokovic and Murray have contested three previous finals at the Melbourne Park with the Serbian emerging triumphant on each occasion.
The world number one is a strong favourite to prevail once again on Sunday and equal Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian Open titles.
“I’m expecting a battle with Andy, as it always is,” he said.
“Very physically demanding match. Lots of rallies, exchanges. It’s no secret we know how we play against each other.
“It’s two games that are very much alike, so it’s basically who’s going to outplay who from the baseline.”
Djokovic said he thought how both players’ serve held up would be an important factor but so would be how they handled the “emotions of the greatness of that occasion of playing for the grand slam title”.
That has been an area of clear advantage for the Serbian in their three previous meetings in Australian Open finals and he has also had a hex over Murray in 10 of their last 11 meetings.
World number two Murray also lost to Roger Federer in the 2010 final and is looking to become the first man to lose four finals at a grand slam before finally winning the title.
The Scot had to come through a four-hour, five-setter against Milos Raonic on Friday but the extra day’s rest that Djokovic enjoyed after his semi-final against Federer has not been a winning advantage in five of the last eight finals.
Murray knows that statistics such as which finalist played their last four match first is unlikely to have too much bearing on a contest between two supremely fit athletes.
“I have a very good shot on Sunday if I play my best tennis. I need to do it for long enough to have a chance. I’m aware of that,” he said.
“I don’t think many people are expecting me to win on Sunday. I have to just believe in myself, have a solid game plan, and hopefully execute it and play well.
“It’s one tennis match. Doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past really. It’s about what happens on Sunday.
“There’s no reason it’s not possible for me to win.”
Tournament organisers will be hoping Murray’s wife Kim does not go into labour with the couple’s first child overnight, a scenario that Murray has said would result in him jumping on a plane back to Britain.
That would give Djokovic his sixth title by default but the 10-times grand slam champion would clearly prefer to earn it.
“It’s a possibility for me to make history, which is of course another great imperative for me for tomorrow’s match,” he said.
“These are the kind of matches that you work for. These are the kind of occasions that define you as a tennis player.”