SIR Andy Murray will be hoping to clear the final hurdle at last in his 12th Australian Open.
The 29-year-old goes into a grand slam as the world number one and top seed for the first time after overtaking Novak Djokovic at the end of last season.
It would be no surprise if Murray and Djokovic crossed swords again in Melbourne.
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Four of Murray’s five final defeats have come against the Serbian, including in three of the last four years, while he also lost a titanic semi-final in 2012. At four hours and 50 minutes, the 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4/7), 6-1, 7-5 defeat was Murray’s longest ever match at Melbourne Park.
His other final defeats came in 2010 against Roger Federer and the following year in his first grand slam final against Djokovic.
With five finals, Murray ranks joint second in the Open era alongside Federer and Stefan Edberg and one behind Djokovic. No other player has reached more than two finals without winning one.
In his final appearances, Murray has only won two sets – one each in 2013 and 2015, both of them in tie-breaks. Murray’s overall record at Melbourne Park is 45 wins and 11 defeats. Since 2010, he has won 39 matches and lost seven.
Despite all his success at the tournament, it is the only grand slam where Murray has lost two first-round matches.
He was beaten by Juan Ignacio Chela on his debut in 2006 and two years later lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who went on to reach the final.
Murray’s only other first-round loss at a grand slam came at the French Open in 2006.
The Scot has twice beaten players ranked number two at Melbourne Park – defeating Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals in 2010 and Roger Federer in the semi-finals three years later. Murray has never had to face more than one top-10 opponent in reaching any of his finals. Last year, his highest-ranked adversary prior to Djokovic was world number eight David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
Of Murray’s 45 wins, 34 have been in straight sets (including four retirements), nine in four sets and two in five sets.
Meanwhile, Johanna Konta held off a spirited second set comeback from Daria Kasatkina to book her spot in the semi-finals of the Apia International in Sydney.
At a set and a break up, the British number one, seeded sixth here, appeared to be coasting towards a last four place but her Russian opponent broke back immediately and then again to establish a 4-2 lead.
But Konta, who made 31 winners and 30 unforced errors, dug deep to win five of the next six games for a 6-3 7-5 victory in just under an hour and three-quarters as she set up a showdown with Canadian wildcard Eugenie Bouchard.
Kasatkina, ranked 16 places below Konta at 26 in the world, claimed an upset win over world number one Angelique Kerber on Tuesday but was left to rue making double the amount of unforced errors (30) as winners (15).
The 19-year-old made a sluggish start in searing temperatures by dropping her opening service game and although she got back on serve, Konta claimed what would prove to be a decisive break in the fourth game.
Konta broke in the first game of the second set but then dropped serve twice before hitting back immediately to level matters at 4-4.
The Sydney-born 25-year-old continued her resurgence by breaking Kasatkina for the final time in the 11th game and then held serve to complete a hard-fought triumph.
Elsewhere, top seed Dominic Thiem survived a lengthy tussle with qualifier Gastao Elias to reach the quarter-finals of the Apia International in Sydney. Austrian Thiem was pushed all the way in a 6-7 (5/7) 6-3 7-5 victory.