Andy Murray believes he could not have possibly done anything more to prepare himself for a fourth Australian Open final tomorrow.
Murray is looking to become the first man in the open era to win the title after suffering defeats in his first three finals, the Scot having lost to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2011 and 2013.
Djokovic again stands in his way of a third grand slam title after battling past defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals, the world No 1 also holding a 15-8 winning record against Murray after seven victories in their last eight meetings.
However, the record in grand slam finals is 2-2 with Murray beating Djokovic in the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon the following year, and the 27-year-old has confidence in his preparations ahead of the showdown.
Murray was quick to defend his coach Amelie Mauresmo after beating Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals and added: “After spending the off-season with Amelie working on a bunch of things, having a sustained sort of period together, I did a great training block. I worked extremely hard physically in the off-season.
“I worked well to give myself the opportunity to play like this. The way that I feel today compared with how I felt after losing in four sets last year, I could barely move at the end of the match because I was so sore and stiff. I felt strong at the end against Berdych.
“Obviously losing in finals is disappointing. But making four finals is a very, very difficult thing to do and I’m proud of my record here. I’ll try my best on Sunday. I’ll go in with the best tactics possible, prepare well, have a couple of days’ rest, recover as best as I can.
“All I can do is give my best. If it’s enough, great. If not, I literally couldn’t have done anything more to put myself in a better position come Sunday.”
Murray ended last year being thrashed 6-0 6-1 by Roger Federer in the ATP World Tour Finals in London, but followed that with his traditional gruelling winter training regime in Florida.
Djokovic is not surprised to be facing his fellow 27-year-old – he was born just a week later than Murray – in the final in Melbourne for the third time.
“It’s not the first time in his career that he’s turning things around this way,” said Djokovic. “He has had in the last five years periods where maybe he goes through half of the season where he just doesn’t feel well, he doesn’t make any significant results for his standards, and then he gets to the finals of a grand slam or he wins a grand slam.
“Of course, people do expect a lot from him because he is a top player, a grand slam winner, an Olympic gold medallist. We all know he has the quality in his game. It’s not a huge surprise, honestly, to see him in the finals.
“But you’re right, looking at where he was at the O2 and his game at the end of 2014 season, maybe people were not giving him such a great chance to get to the finals. But to me it’s not a huge surprise because I know what his qualities are. I know what he can play and what he can deliver.”
Djokovic dropped just one set in beating Murray in their two previous finals in Melbourne but has seen the sixth seed enjoy comfortable progress through the draw, the Scot losing only two sets and seeing Federer and Rafael Nadal removed from his path in the draw.
“He’s been playing some great tennis these couple of weeks,” added Djokovic. “From my side, it’s going to be necessary to perform at my best and play the best match of the tournament if I want to win.
“There’s no clear favourite. But the record I have in finals against him here in Australia can serve maybe as a slight mental edge. But not much. I don’t think he’s going to feel that on the court. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated to win his first title here. I’m going to, of course, give my best that that doesn’t happen.”
Djokovic had not dropped a set on his way to the semi-finals but was made to dig deep to win 7-6 (7/1) 3-6 6-4 4-6 6-0 in exactly three-and-a-half hours.
It was the third year running Djokovic and Wawrinka had gone the distance in Melbourne, although yesterday’s contest lacked the quality and drama of their two previous encounters.
Djokovic beat Wawrinka 12-10 in the fifth set in the fourth round before claiming his third straight title in 2013, but Wawrinka ended the world No 1’s 25-match unbeaten run in the quarter-finals last year, winning 9-7 in the fifth. “I did not play on the level that I intended before the match,” said Djokovic, who committed 49 of the 118 unforced errors in the match.
“There were parts of the match where I stepped in and played a game I needed to play, but parts of the match 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.”