Novak Djokovic hits a backhand return to Andy Murray during...

Novak Djokovic hits a backhand return to Andy Murray during their semifinal match at the Australian Open. (Jan. 27, 2012) Credit: AP

MELBOURNE, Australia -- If anyone knows how Novak Djokovic feels after sweating and scrapping for almost five hours in the Australian Open semifinals, it's his next opponent -- Rafael Nadal.

A day after Nadal beat Roger Federer in four compelling sets, Djokovic dug deep to overcome Andy Murray, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5, Friday night after 4 hours, 50 minutes.

Defending champion Djokovic will face Nadal in a third straight major singles final Sunday. It's a reversal from three years ago, when Nadal had to regroup after his own lengthy semifinal.

The Spaniard needed 5:14 in 2009 to get past compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the longest men's singles match in the tournament's history. When the final rolled around, he beat Federer -- who had an extra day to rest -- in five sets.

Now a weary Djokovic has less than 48 hours to prepare to face Nadal, one of the most fit players in the game.

"I know that I maybe have a mental edge because I've won six finals . . . We played in 2011 and I've had lots of success against him," Djokovic said. "That's going to be my main priority and concern the next day and a half, to physically be able to perform my best and be ready to play five sets."

Djokovic won 10 titles in 2011, six of them by beating Nadal in finals. Just as Nadal has the mental edge over Federer, Djokovic has developed a hold over the Spaniard.

But the No. 1-ranked Djokovic has shown chinks in his armor. Against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, he struggled to breathe through most of a straight-sets win and at one point, clutched his leg in agony. Against Murray, he looked completely spent again when he hobbled back to his chair after dropping serve to go down 2-1 in the third.

"He's done it many times before," Murray said. "He runs very well even when he's breathing heavy. I was ready for that."

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