He’s one of a kind, that Novak Djokovic. How many players would arrive for a pre-tournament press conference with a koala clipped to their jacket and then crack jokes about their opponent? Novak would.
It’s been well documented that Djokovic and Andy Murray have known each other since their childhood days. Being so familiar with each other for so long, how then has Murray changed through the Serb’s eyes?
“Well, I know he had a lot of hair, a lot of curly hair. He was quite pale also,” said Djokovic, laughing at the memory.
“But he got more sun I think over the years training in Barcelona. He has more of a tan now than when he was a junior.”
All jokes aside, the Serbian superstar looked relaxed on Saturday when he met with the press, ready to play in his third consecutive Australian Open final on Sunday night. Should he win, he will become the first player in the Open era to win three Australian Open titles in a row, and it would take his overall tally here to four.
“Being in a third consecutive final is an incredible feeling and achievement, [I’m] so very proud of it,” he said.
“I just think that also a big reason is it's the first big tournament of the year. Now we had a little bit longer off‑season, which gave us more time to recharge our batteries, to work on some things, to get ready.
“You know, you come out here and you want to win the first big trophy of the year. I guess that's a fresh start that everybody wants.”
Djokovic and Murray, the first and third seeds in Melbourne, have built an on-court history that’s almost as extensive as their off-court friendship. They have played each other on 17 occasions – Djokovic has won 10 times – and forged a strong rivalry since turning pro in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
“I think it's special because we are the same age,” said Djokovic. “There's only a week difference between us. We know each other since we were 11, 12 years old. I guess that adds something very special to our rivalry.
“As we developed, of course we improved our games, we improved as athletes, as people, and it's nice, you know, to see somebody that you grew up with doing so well.”
And Murray has been doing well, exceptionally well. Since arriving in Australia he has won the Brisbane International and progressed through the first five rounds of his eighth Australian Open campaign without dropping a set. He’s now won 11 straight matches, a nice warm-up indeed.
A five-set semifinal win over 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer was Murray’s first real test in Melbourne. Prior to Friday night’s stirring victory, Murray had never beaten Federer before at a Grand Slam tournament. It’s the kind of win that gives a player confidence heading into a final.
And not only does Djokovic know this, but he’s prepared for a pumped-up opponent.
“Well, considering the fact that every time we played in last probably six, seven encounters, it was always a long matches, physically very demanding, going three sets and five sets in Grand Slams.
“So I guess we have to expect something similar to happen, long rallies, and I'm ready for that.”
Since 2011 these two have split the two Grand Slam finals they have played in. Djokovic took the honours here in 2011, but it was Murray who finally broke through at the US Open last year. The Serb said that he has recovered from that particular loss, but he certainly hasn’t forgotten the pain he felt in the immediate aftermath.
“I was disappointed to lose that match, definitely. You know, you always are if you're losing in the finals of a Grand Slam. But I know I didn't do anything particularly wrong. He was just a better player that day,” he said.
“Now I have another opportunity to win a Grand Slam trophy, and that's what matters for me in this moment.”