MELBOURNE, Australia — Andy Murray doesn’t have to worry about Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal this time. He is hardly in the clear, however, as he goes for his first major title.
Murray won his Australian Open semifinal, defeating David Ferrer 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-1, 7-6 (2). Next in line is 2008 champion and longtime friend Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.
There is also, of course, there’s that long, long British drought. Fred Perry was the last British man to win a one of the four majors — way back in 1936. More than 270 Grand Slam tournaments have been contested in almost 75 years since Perry’s victory, when Britain had a King and an empire.
“First of all, it’s more like a personal dream or a personal goal of mine,” Murray said. “The historical thing, it’s not something that I’ve thought about that much, but it’s something that obviously for me personally I want to try and win. But I also don’t want to get myself so amped up that I play a stinker of a match.”
On the women’s side, there will be a first-time Australian Open winner. Kim Clijsters goes for her fourth Grand Slam title Saturday, but first outside the United States. She takes on China’s Li Na, who can become the first Asian to win a Grand Slam tournament.
Li already has broken new ground as the first Chinese to reach a Grand Slam singles final. Now she is hoping to go one better after eliminating top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.
The top-ranked women’s team of Gisela Dulko of Argentina and Flavia Pennetta of Italy rallied from a set and 4-1 down to win the doubles final over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Maria Kirilenko of Russia 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.
In beating the seventh-seeded Ferrer, Murray was facing his first top 10 opponent this year at Melbourne Park. Ferrer ousted Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinal, although his fellow Spaniard was hobbled by an injured left leg when his pursuit of a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title evaporated.
Murray was leading Nadal by two sets and a break last year when the Spaniard retired with an injured knee. Then he lost the final in straight sets to Federer, the weight of expectations too great.
“If you go in thinking ‘Yeah, no one’s won for 60 years, I might never get another chance … ” Murray said. “I’m going to make the most of the opportunity, for sure. But I also need to make sure I’m relaxed and calm on the court. I don’t want to get myself sort of too worked up.”
Murray has twice been in this position, losing both the 2009 U.S. Open final and last year’s Australian Open in straight sets to Federer. Djokovic dropped Federer 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-4 in the semis in Melbourne, the same round in which he beat the Swiss star in 2008. It also backed up his victory over Federer in the last U.S. Open semifinals.
Murray is hoping two fresh faces in the final will be good for tennis. Federer and Nadal combined to win 21 of the previous 23 majors. Djokovic’s victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Australia in 2008 was the only final in that span that didn’t feature one of the top two players.
Djokovic and Murray have known each other since their early teens — both are 23, their birthdays a week apart. But they have never met in a major.
“We’ve always been like 3 and 4 the last few years. We’ve always been on different halves of the draw in every tournament we’ve played.” Murray said. “So we practice a lot together. We get on well together. We’re good friends. You know, so in terms of a rivalry, I think this will be the start. Well, I hope it’s the start of us playing each other in big matches.”
Murray will get a day off to think about how he can improve on last year’s performance.
“I’m sure I’ll deal with everything better than I have done in the past on Sunday,” he said. “I think last year was better than the one before, and I hope this one is going to be better than last year.”
Djokovic leads their head-to-heads 4-3. Murray, however, has won the last three — all on hardcourts.
“I think experiencewise we’re similar … You know, we’re good friends, we practice a lot together … so there won’t be any secrets with our games,” Murray said. “But it’s going to be a brutal match, I think.”
After two weeks of unseasonable cool weather, forecasters predict a 104-degree scorcher Sunday. Djokovic has struggled with sweltering conditions in past majors, but he is confident in knowing neither Federer nor Nadal is around.
“On one side it’s good for the sport to have more players being able to win against Federer and Nadal,” he said. “All the credit to them what they have done in last five, six years. They’ve been very dominant and just a great example of champions. Now these things are changing a little bit, so from that perspective it’s good for the sport.”
Djokovic drew satisfaction from his victory over Federer.
“I’ve been playing my best tennis in this tournament,” he said. “You know, this is the only Grand Slam I won, and again, this year I’ve been playing great, losing only a set before finals. That shows that this surface is really suitable to my game.”
Besides, he said, he’s a different player from the one in 2008.
“Physically, I’m stronger,” he said. “I was a 20-year-old kid hitting as hard as he can with closed eyes and everything was going in back then. It was great. Felt great. Then I, over the years, I faced some situations that I never faced before — pressure of defending Grand Slams and things like that. You grow up. You get this knowledge and the necessary experience. You know, you just have to accept that as a good school, and move on. That’s what I did.”
So he’s hoping to teach his old friend Murray a thing or two he picked up along the way.
“I think we reconnected again and become a bit closer. It’s nice to see somebody that you grew up with. We played under 12, under 10, under 14. We grew up together. We basically made a breakthrough to top 100 more or less at the same time.
“It’s nice to see somebody doing well, the person who was your longtime friend,” he said. But, he added: “We’re both professionals. Of course, we haven’t played for a very long time. … Going to be interesting.”