ANDY Murray's hopes of reaching a third successive Australian Open final were extinguished tonight by Novak Djokovic after an extraordinary five-set encounter in Melbourne.
It seemed Murray was on track to record his fifth victory in 11 meetings with the Serbian when he led two sets to one and with the world number again struggling with the breathing difficulties he experienced in his quarter-final victory over David Ferrer.
But Djokovic is made of stern stuff and he romped through the fourth and then edged a dramatic fifth as Murray, having hit back from 5-2 down to level at 5-5, dropped his serve to lose 6-3 3-6 6-7 (4/7) 6-1 7-5.
"It is difficult to describe, I was just trying to focus on very point," Djokovic said of his comeback. "Andy deserves the credit to come back from 5-2 down, he was fighting, I was fighting.
"It was evidently a physical match, it was one of the best matches I have played, emotionally and physically it was equally hard."
The semi-final flirted with the record for the longest match at the Australian Open. Rafa Nadal beat Fernando Verdasco 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 in five hours, 14 minutes in 2009.
Murray had looked the more dominant throughout the first three sets as the Serb's fatigue became more apparent as he put little pace on the ball and was seemingly just willing to get it back into play and hope Murray made a mistake.
The match, however, turned in the fourth set when Djokovic raced through it in 25 minutes after he jumped out to a 4-0 lead when he conceded just four points.
He had raced to a 5-2 lead in the final set, but Murray fought back to level it at 5-5 and held three break points in the 11th game, before Djokovic fought back and then broke to seal his final place against Nadal.