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."
The Grand Slam finals so far between Murray and Djokovic
The five Grand Slam finals so far between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the world number one and two who will face each other for the Australian Open title on Sunday:
2011 Australian Open final
In their first Grand Slam final, Djokovic put Murray to the sword and established himself as the man who would break the duopoly of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The Serb claimed his second Grand Slam final 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 against a flat-footed Murray, who appeared drained by his four-set semi-final against David Ferrer. "Djokovic not only broke the Nadal-Federer stranglehold on the game's major trophies, the 23-year-old Serbian made a compelling case to be admitted to their elite company," said the Sydney Morning Herald.
2012 US Open final
Murray broke through for his first Grand Slam title and it took some doing, as he edged Djokovic over nearly five hours before finally winning it 7–6 (12/10), 7–5, 2–6, 3–6, 6–2. Murray, buoyed by his London Olympics gold medal earlier that year, snapped a sequence of eight straight five-set wins by Djokovic. "If I had lost this one from two sets up, that would have been a tough one to take," said the Scot.
2013 Australian Open final
Djokovic underlined his physical superiority as he recovered from a set down to win 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (7/3), 6-3, 6-2 and become the first man in the Open era to win three Australian Open titles in a row. Again the match was a dogfight as the first two sets alone ran for well over two hours. One crucial moment came at 2-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, when Murray stopped in the middle of a second serve to catch a white feather as it floated to the ground -- and then double-faulted, giving Djokovic an opening that he bolted through. "I thought it was a good idea to move (the feather)," Murray said "Maybe it wasn't because I obviously double-faulted. No, you know, at this level it can come down to just a few points here or there."
2013 Wimbledon final
Murray beat Djokovic in straight sets for the only time in their Grand Slam history, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. "I know what it's like losing in a Wimbledon final and I know what it's like winning one, and it's a lot better winning. The hard work is worth it," Murray said. Djokovic explained his below-par performance by saying he was exhausted from his five-set semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro.
2015 Australian Open final
Djokovic's powers of endurance were again a talking point as he overcame a "physical crisis" and recovered from a set down to beat Murray in another thriller 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-0. Djokovic looked wobbly and was gasping for breath in the third set before he came roaring back to win 12 of the last 13 games. "You could see that I had a crisis end of the second, beginning of the third," said Djokovic, who denied he was indulging in theatrics to throw Murray off his game. "I just felt very exhausted and I needed some time to regroup and recharge and get back on track. That's what I've done."
Reuters and AFP