(CNN) -- World No. 1 Novak Djokovic survived an enthralling marathon clash with Andy Murray on Friday to earn an Australian Open final showdown with Rafael Nadal.
The Serbian thrashed Murray in straight sets in last year's final to launch an incredible year in which he won three of the four grand slams and toppled Nadal from the rankings summit.
But this time, at the last-four stage, he was made to fight much harder before finally triumphing 6-3 3-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 7-5 in four hours and 50 minutes as the match went late into the night.
"It was one of the best matches I've played, but emotionally and mentally it was hard," Djokovic said courtside after the win. "I felt like we were breaking each other's serves easier than serving it out.
"Andy deserves the credit to come back into the match after 2-5 down. He was fighting, I was fighting."
The match was a seesaw affair as both players mixed remarkable strokeplay and athletic rallies with some surprisingly poor serving and unforced errors -- but the combination proved for arguably the best match of the tournament so far, eclipsing Nadal's semifinal win over Roger Federer on Thursday.
Djokovic now has a 7-4 record over Murray, and beat Nadal in six finals last year -- including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Murray's wait for a first grand slam title continues, with the British world No. 4 -- runner-up in Melbourne for the past two years -- having lost three finals.
Djokovic must now recover for Sunday's final as he seeks to become the fifth man to win three successive grand slams in the post-1968 Open era.
"It's going to be physical as well, so I need to do some push-ups tonight," he said.
Both Djokovic and Murray endured periods in the match where it appeared they were tiring, but the pair battled on in an energy-sapping contest.
"You have to find strength in those moments and energy, and that keeps you going," Djokovic said. "At this level, very few points decide the winner, as it was the case tonight.
"I think we both went through a physical crisis. You know, him at the fourth set, me all the way through the second and midway through the third ... I held my composure. I was happy to react the way I did and win in the end."
Djokovic has struggled with his breathing throughout the tournament and revealed he had consulted with a doctor about the problem.
"I've talked with couple of players that have a little allergy problems this year in Australia for no reason, ones they didn't have in last couple years but they had reactions this year," he said.
"I suppose that's my problem, as well. I've been trying to do everything possible to clear that out. But we are all surrounded with the flowers. It's really difficult to take that away. But still, no excuses.
"It was very physical from both sides, from both players all the way through to the end. For these kind of matches, you really practice all your life to be able to be a winner out of five sets."
It was Murray's fifth grand slam semifinal appearance in a row, and he feels he has closed the gap between himself and the top three.
"Tonight's match was important for many reasons," the 24-year-old said. "Obviously I wanted to win first and foremost.
"But, after last year, the year that Novak's had, I think there's a very fine line between being No. 1 in the world and being 3 or 4. I think that gap, I feel tonight I closed it.
"My job over the next two or three months is to surpass him and the guys in front of me. So take a lot of hard work, and hopefully I can do it."
Murray has recently recruited Czechoslovakia-born American Ivan Lendl as a coach, and the eight-time grand slam is already having a positive effect on his game.
"Obviously for me, I want to try and repay the sort of faith that he's shown in me by coming to work with me. So I would have liked to have done obviously better here," Murray said.
"Hopefully he was happy with the way I did and how I acted on the court. Hopefully at the French Open I'll do a little bit better.
"He told me a couple nights ago, 'Prepare yourself mentally to go through a lot of pain, a lot of tough points to play when your legs are sore and your legs are burning.' That was probably the main thing."