- Australian Open, Day 12
First slam win over Federer puts Murray in final
The Scot, looking for back-to-back major victories after his breakthrough triumph at last year's US Open, proved too strong for Federer in a hard-fought but narrowly deserved 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2 win in their semi-final on Friday.
In the process, the 25-year-old equalled Fred Perry's all-time British record of 106 career victories in grand slam matches. Murray will take hold of that record on his own if he can beat Djokovic on Sunday, in what will be a repeat of 2011 final that the Serbian won in straight sets.
The two also faced each other in the semi-finals in Melbourne 12 months ago, with Djokovic - who went on to win the tournament - eventually coming from a set down to win 7-5 in the fifth on that occasion.
Murray will need to recover quickly for their next encounter following a gruelling four-hour semi-final, especially with Djokovic having had an extra day to rehabilitate from his own, remarkably straightforward, semi-final triumph.
In truth, it never really looked as if Murray would have as easy a match as Djokovic had enjoyed a day prior.
Unusually for a singles match, after winning the toss Murray opted to choose ends rather than whether to serve or receive. Whether or not that decision - in moderately windy conditions - made a difference was hard to discern, but the Scot engineered break points in each of Federer's first two service games, with Murray finally taking one of them with a booming forehand that the Swiss was unable to get back.
From that foundation Murray proceeded to clinch the opening stanza with little fuss, testing his opponent on almost every service game while running into few obstacles on his own delivery. In the end, however, he had to settle for an unrepresentative 6-4 scoreline - firing a blistering serve down the T that Federer had no hope of getting back into court to finish matters on the first set point.
The second set was more evenly balanced, with neither player giving an inch. Murray continued to hold his serve with little difficulty but Federer gradually matched him, ultimately sending matters to a tiebreak after 94 minutes of action - five minutes more than Djokovic needed to win all three sets with David Ferrer in his semi on Thursday.
In that tiebreak a wild forehand long and wide gave Federer a mini-break at 2-1, with the Swiss winning the next two points following some clever strategic play. A correct challenge on a poor line call gave Murray hope at 3-4, before Federer relinquished his remaining advantage with a weak approach. The tennis great made amends at 5-5, however, passing across Murray after the Scot's smash was fired straight at him. And that shot proved decisive, as the set point it created was duly taken.
The next key passage of play came at 3-2 to Murray in the third, as the Scot engineered three break points after a few costly mistakes from his opponent. The first was squandered after a misjudged lob - but he was handed his second break of the match in the next; Federer letting himself down with a careless backhand that leaked wide of the left line.
Murray proceeded to serve out for the set with consummate skill - sealing the third stanza in fitting fashion with a booming ace down the T.
That shot in itself brought a landmark for the US Open champion - he had never previously won two sets in a grand slam match against Federer - but it was the victory that the Scot was really pursuing.
However, he suddenly started to waver in that pursuit in the fourth set. Federer had not really looked like getting a break at all in the opening three sets of the match, but suddenly Murray handed him a lifeline as a series of errors - culminating in a cross-court forehand needlessly sent wide - put the Swiss 3-1 up on his serve.
Murray's sloppy play continued in the next game, allowing Federer to cement his advantage. But the Scot snapped out of his rut quickly, holding for 4-2 before giving Federer a taste of his own medicine - putting away an overhit drop shot to set up a break point opportunity, taking it with a vicious forehand arrowed into the back corner of the court.
The next game then felt pivotal. Federer, raising his game, took matters to deuce, before Murray was left angry at the umpire after a let was not called following an incorrect line shout. But, where such an incident may have derailed Murray in the past, this time he quickly snapped back into focus - rebuffing Federer's advances and taking the game to level matters at 4-4.
Murray nearly channelled his anger into a second successive break in the next but Federer - seemingly oscillating between awful strokes and simply miraculous ones from point to point - managed to hold his nerve as his will and skill held firm.
An easy hold to love relieved some of the growing tension, but Murray took that momentum into the next game - battering his opponent with accurate groundstrokes to create three break point opportunities. The first of those he took - Federer billowing a tired forehand long and wide as Murray's eighth successive point left him serving for the match.
Many inside Rod Laver Arena foresaw an imminent finish, but Federer was not going to give up without a serious fight. Down 30-15, the Swiss gave himself hope with a remarkable deep return, before lashing a backhand down the line to put himself in position to force a tiebreak. In the end, however, it was Murray who would deliver that eventuality - a wild miss with half the court open bringing a punishment it certainly warranted.
Federer - as he had already shown in the match - had been almost untouchable in tiebreaks during the tournament, and he repeated his feat of winning two of the deciders (as he did in the quarter-finals against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) with another spectacular display of strategic tennis. Murray, perhaps aggrieved by his squandered chance to end the contest, made a couple of mistakes - but Federer smothered him at every opportunity as an all-or-nothing fifth set was duly set up.
The first break of that final set was always likely to be vital - and it was Murray who grabbed it. Equally significantly, it came at the first opportunity - the Scot racing into a 2-0 lead after a cleverly-disguised slower return lulled Federer into a wild mishit on break point.
While the Tsonga match had seen Federer mentally overwhelm his opponent as the match wore on, on this occasion it was the 32-year-old who found himself on the receiving end of an emotional and physical bullying from an opponent simply unwilling to falter.
With a 3-0 lead giving himself some early breathing room Murray never relented, looking comfortable on his serve before a second break - at 5-2 - finally, after four hours and six seconds, brought the contest to an end.
Djokovic, and potentially a second grand slam title, now awaits.