MELBOURNE (AFP) – World number one Novak Djokovic fought off Stan Wawrinka over five tense sets to master the defending champion and reach his fifth Australian Open final on Friday, where he will meet Andy Murray.
The Serb top seed won 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in 3hr 30mins and will face the British sixth seed for a third time in Sunday’s Grand Slam decider.
It was Djokovic’s toughest match of the tournament and his serve was broken five times in another titanic duel with the Swiss world number four.
The clash was their fourth straight Grand Slam encounter to go to five sets with Djokovic winning three of them. He lost to Wawrinka in the quarter-finals at last year’s Australian Open.
“I did not play on the level that I intended,” he said. “There were parts of the match where I stepped in and played a game I needed to play, but other parts where I played too defensive and allowed him to dictate the play from the baseline.
“He has great depth in his shots. Once he has control of the rallies it’s very difficult to play against him.
“So it was very emotional, very tense, as it always is against a top player in semi-finals of a Grand Slam.”
The top seed won through to his fifth Australian Open final, having won his previous four deciders in Melbourne. He beat Murray in the 2011 and 2013 finals.
But Murray also has form against Djokovic, beating him in the 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon finals, setting up an unpredictable Melbourne Park decider.
It was not a convincing performance from the Serb, who made 49 unforced errors to 27 winners and won just 70 percent of his first serves, but crucially he broke Wawrinka’s strong serve seven times.
“I think it was more mental because once you back up and start playing defensively you spend a lot of energy,” Djokovic said of his mid-match lapses.
“He was the one that was dictating the rallies. There’s no question about it.
“Some points of the match I did struggle physically to recover for the next one because I run a lot and he was getting a lot of balls back in play.”