MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Iron-clad defense triumphed over all-out attack as Andy Murray overhauled Milos Raonic 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 6-4, 6-2 on Friday to book another Australian Open final against Melbourne Park nemesis Novak Djokovic.
World No. 2 Murray came from behind twice to topple the rangy Canadian, who was troubled by a leg injury and finally capitulated after playing majestically for most of the 4-hour and 3-minute contest at a flood-lit Rod Laver Arena.
After leveling the match at two sets apiece, Murray broke Raonic in the opening game of the decider and the flustered 13th seed smashed his racquet in frustration before promptly crumbling.
Four-time runner-up Murray roared to a 4-0 lead before closing out the match with a dismissive crosscourt winner to reach his fifth final at Melbourne Park and fourth against the Serbian world No. 1.
“I started to get a slightly better read on his serve later on and that was the key,” Murray, beaten by Djokovic in last year’s final, said in a courtside interview.
“He definitely slowed down in the fifth set for sure which was unfortunate for him,” the Scot added of Raonic’s injury.
“I obviously got a bit lucky on that but you just try to focus on your side of the court.”
Murray said he sensed Raonic slowing down, but had to keep his mind on his own side of the court.
He’ll have to do that again on Sunday night against Djokovic, who won 27 of his 28 matches in Grand Slams in 2015 — his only loss coming in the French Open final.
“I need to keep my game plan very well, not have any lapses in concentration and just play the best I can,” said Murray, who has won just nine of his 30 career meetings with Djokovic. “He loves playing on this court, we’ve played a bunch of times here. Hopefully it can be a different result.”
Murray’s trips to the final have all ended in heartbreak, but he will have taken heart from his fighting comeback and ability to defuse Raonic’s overwhelming power game.
A match pitting one of the game’s finest servers against a returning maestro promised fireworks but few would have tipped Raonic to break his opponent to love in the opening game.
The 25-year-old saved three break points in the next game then held the advantage to close out the set with a huge serve down the “T.”
Having missed break point chances at 1-0 and 3-2 in the second set, Murray had to bide his time but he kicked the door open with a brilliant crosscourt passing shot to set up a set point at 6-5.
The Canadian chanced a serve-volley but netted Murray’s sharp return and the Scot pumped his fist in delight.
The tension kept rising as the third set went into a tiebreak, and Raonic pounced on a weak second serve from Murray to take a 3-1 lead.
Serving masterfully, Raonic nervelessly rocketed a smash that clipped the line to reach 5-2 before closing out the marathon 58-minute set with an ace.
Though the Rod Laver Arena rumbled with the threat of an upset, Raonic barely celebrated and marched straight off the court.
He exited again after holding serve to lead 2-1 for a medical timeout on a leg injury but he jogged back out onto the court and appeared untroubled.
That was until the seventh game, when he was broken to love in an error-strewn game as Murray ramped up his returning game.
Raonic grimaced as he had his right leg worked on by a trainer after holding serve to trail 5-4. But he shrugged off the injury to raise two chances to break back.
Murray saved them both and blasted a serve down the middle to level the match.
Having appeared a model of composure, Raonic finally showed the strain and smashed his racquet into the blue hard-court after being swiftly broken in the opening game of the decider.
From there the sting went out of the contest as Murray’s laser-sharp focus allowed him to roar to a 4-0 lead.
The Scot struck an exquisite backhand volley to bring up three match points and after hammering the winning crosscourt forehand, savored one of his finest wins at Melbourne Park.
In the earlier women’s doubles final, the No. 1-ranked team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza beat the Czech pair of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 to extend their winning streak to 36 matches on the way to a third Grand Slam title together.
Hingis and Mirza won the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles last year.
Mirza couldn’t extend her run in mixed doubles, losing with her partner Ivan Dodig of Croatia 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) to Elena Vesnina and Soares in the semifinals later Friday. Vesnina and Soares will play American Coco Vandeweghe and Horia Tecau of Romania in Sunday’s final.