MELBOURNE, Australia - Novak Djokovic did enough to beat defending champion Stan Wawrinka in a semifinal match that lacked the intensity of their recent five-setters, setting up an Australian Open final against long-time friend and rival Andy Murray.
The top-ranked Djokovic beat Wawrinka in a peculiarly seesawing 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 match Friday night to ensure two members of the so-called Big Four will meet the season-opening Grand Slam final.
Djokovic has a 100 per cent winning record in finals at Melbourne Park, claiming his first Grand Slam title here in 2008 and winning three straight years from 2011 before his streak was ended in the quarterfinals last year by Wawrinka.
The previous three Grand Slam meetings between Djokovic and Wawrinka had gone five sets, including two at the Australian Open that lasted a combined nine hours. Unlike those, though, the Friday night encounter was relatively muted and Wawrinka even described it as "Strange. Not the best, for sure."
"There were parts of the match where I stepped in and played a game I needed to play, but parts of the match where I played too defensive and allowed him to dictate," Djokovic said. "So, yeah, it was very emotional, very tense, as it always is against a top player in semifinals of a Grand Slam.
"So the battle was great ... in terms of fighting from both sides .. but the level of performance was not where I wanted it to be."
Djokovic improved his record to 17 wins in 20 matches against Wawrinka, who will drop to No. 9 in the rankings next week.
Djokovic has beaten Murray in seven of their last eight matches and is 15-8 overall, but they're level in Grand Slam finals with two wins apiece — Djokovic in Australia in 2011 and '13 and Murray at the 2012 U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2013.
Wawrinka made his career breakthrough here last year, when he beat Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal to claim his first Grand Slam title, but he hadn't been past the quarterfinals at a major since his return to Melbourne Park.
"There's no pressure for that. I'm surprised we went five sets again," he said. "But, no, for sure we had some great battle here last two years. Today was strange match. He was there playing good enough to win and he deserve to win and play the final."
At times Wawrinka got on top of Djokovic, who looked lethargic at times and didn't realize after winning the third set that he'd taken a 2-1 lead. But Djokovic kept his composure in the 3-hour, 30-minute match as Wawrinka blasted 42 winners but offset that with 69 unforced errors. Djokovic hit 27 winners — none in the fourth set — and finished with 49 unforced errors.
The momentum shifted suddenly in three of the five sets, with both players struggling to turn service breaks into big leads. Djokovic was broken once in each of the first three sets and twice in the fourth. He broke Wawrinka seven times in the match, including three in the last set.
Sixth-seeded Murray, who has lost three Australian Open finals, moved into the championship match with a fiery four-set win over No. 7 Tomas Berdych on Thursday night.
Djokovic said he's going to have to improve considerably to maintain his perfect record in Australian Open finals.
"I think I have much more positive things to reflect on in my game and then all the matches that I played so far in the tournament than the negative," he said. "I'm in the finals. In the end of the day, that's why I'm here. Getting to the finals in any way possible is a great achievement. I'm going to try to use that to build up of the confidence for finals."