As he targets a fifth Australian Open crown, Novak Djokovic will have a very familiar figure standing on the other side of the net.
Djokovic and Andy Murray will clash in their fifth grand slam final on Sunday night at Melbourne Park, putting it on a par with the Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl-Mats Wilander rivalries.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s eight meetings in grand slam deciders is still the benchmark, while Djokovic has played Nadal in seven major finals.
But with the score locked at 2-2, Djokovic-Murray may be the pre-eminent rivalry in men’s tennis.
“Grand slams are obviously the four biggest events we have in our sport,” Djokovic said.
“Winning a major allows you to be in the elite of tennis players. Not many have succeeded before you in winning a major.
“So I’m very blessed to be able to have seven majors so far and, at 27 years old, I feel I’m at the peak of my career at the moment with my physical and mental abilities.
“Hopefully I can use this time in capturing a few more.”
Standing in his way on Sunday night is Murray, the Scot now firmly established among the Big Four and who first crossed paths with Djokovic well over a decade ago at junior tournament in Europe.
Sunday will be their third final at Melbourne Park in four years after the Serb took the trophy in 2011 and 2013. Murray beat Djokovic to win the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon the following year.
Born seven days apart, Murray honed his silky game on the clay courts of Barcelona, while Djokovic moved from Belgrade to train at the Niki Pilic Academy in Munich.
Djokovic flourished first, becoming the youngest man in the 47-year open era to reach the last four at all four slams before breaking through at Melbourne Park to win his maiden major at just 20.
Murray needed longer, losing his first four grand slam finals – all to Federer and Djokovic – before conquering the latter to ecstatically end Britain’s 77-year Wimbledon men’s singles drought in 2013.
Djokovic holds a 15-8 lead in their head-to-head meetings, including the most recent four.
“We’ve known each other since 11, 12. There is only week difference between us,” Djokovic said.
“We have very similar games and very similar roles in professional tennis. So I think that’s what makes it very special.”
But there will be no room for sentiment when Djokovic pushes friendship to the side in pursuit of yet more grand slam glory.
Djokovic fantasised about winning Wimbledon, lifting the sport’s most treasured trophies, and he still does.
The seven-times major winner says he’s a long way from done.
“I’ve had a great career,” Djokovic said.
“I’m very satisfied. From where I came from to where I am now, it’s been an incredible road, an incredible adventure.
“But this is not where I stop.
“People mention Roland Garros, yes, this is one of my main priorities.
“It is the only grand slam I haven’t won. I do dream about it, there’s no question about it. But it happens in five months time.
“So I’m just thinking about the Australian Open for starters.”
– with AAP