MELBOURNE (Reuters) - For two men who have accomplished so much in their closely intertwined careers, the Australian Open final between friends Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on Sunday could achieve a number of firsts.
Should Djokovic beat Murray he will become the first man in the Open era to win five titles in Melbourne and be one away from Roy Emerson’s record of six, won before the game went professional in 1968.
Victory will also allow him to reclaim his mantle as the king of Melbourne Park, having reached the final in four of the past five years.
“Getting to the finals is already a great achievement ... but now this is the match for which you have worked for now two months,” Djokovic said after he beat last year’s champion Stan Wawrinka in the semi-final. “This is where you want to be.
“This is why you put all these hours on and off the court, trying to get yourself in a position to win grand slam trophy, because that’s what matters the most.”
Djokovic is bidding for his eighth grand slam title and has a superior 15-8 career record over Murray.
He has also won seven of the last eight matches, while in his run of three successive Melbourne Park titles, he beat Murray twice, in 2011 and 2013.
“There’s no clear favorite. But ... the record I have in finals against him here in Australia, we played couple times, can serve maybe as a slight mental edge,” Djokovic said.
“But not much.”
While the history is against Murray, the Scot is used to rewriting it.
It would be his first title at Melbourne Park, from his fourth final appearance, the most required in the Open era to win the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
It would also end another long barren streak for British men’s tennis, as he would be the first British man since Fred Perry in 1934 to clinch the Australian title.
Ending long losing streaks back to the days of Perry is something the 27-year-old Scot is becoming accustomed to.
He became the first British man since Perry to win a grand slam title in 76 years when he clinched the U.S. Open in 2012 and the first to win Wimbledon in 77 years in 2013.
Both times he beat Djokovic in the final.
It would also be his first under new coach Amelie Mauresmo, with the Scot coming out after his tempestuous semi-final victory over Thomas Berdych to defend their working together.
Murray’s form last year was criticized, with some pundits putting it down to Mauresmo’s influence, but the sixth seed said the pair had barely worked together at all before the end of 2014.
“I feel like I’m playing well again,” Murray said on Saturday. “I think this tournament’s been obviously important for me just because of some of the results I had at the end of last year.
“It shows as well that last year, although it was a tough year, it wasn’t that bad.
“I feel like things have been going the right direction the last couple months.”
His improvements at Melbourne Park have been noticed by Djokovic.
“His game at the end of 2014 season, maybe people were not giving him such a great chances to get to the finals,” Djokovic said.
“(But) he feels that he’s more relaxed on the court and he can swing through his shots from the baseline.
“I think forehand has improved, judging by the matches he has played ... compared to a few months ago.
“He’s also got a big serve. I think if he serves well, that’s a huge confidence boost and advantage for him.
“I think the way he’s been playing, he already knows what it takes to win a grand slam title ... so I’m sure that we both are going to go out and give our best.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty