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Australian Open 2011 Men's Final: Novak Djokovic Vs. Andy Murray In Melbourne

We said earlier this week that the 2011 Australian Open finalists' field was perhaps the most likable foursome we'd ever gotten to cover, and while that's readily explicable on the women's side, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray might not fit the most widely accepted definitions of "nice guys." They can be surly and pompous. They can throw tantrums with the best of their top-ranked compatriots. But Djokovic's interview antics are the stuff of legend, and the always-taciturn Murray has crept astonishingly far out of his shell in Melbourne this year. There's no Roger, and there's no Rafa, but on and off the court, this is going to be a fun one to watch.

Tonight's pair of combatants shares a friendship that goes all the way back to their junior days on tour, where they came up in the sport together and even occasionally played doubles as partners. As if the stakes weren't high enough, they've never faced one another in a Grand Slam event.

Murray, of course, needs no exacerbating pressure. The world No. 5 operates under constant and bewildering pressure from his homeland to capture a major title and end a British Grand Slam tourney drought that trails back almost three-quarters of a century. He's come achingly close to pulling it off, twice, but was defeated in the '08 U.S. Open finals and in Melbourne last year by Federer.

Even Djokovic sympathizes with his buddy's plight, though that doesn't keep him from quipping about it:

“It’s been a tough situation for him to face this media pressure and being a British player,” world number three Djokovic told reporters on Saturday.

Before beating Murray in last year’s final, Fededer memorably teased the Scot by stating the “poor guy trying to win Britain’s first major in 150,000 years.”

The world No. 3, like most other men playing in the era of Federer-and-Nadal, has just one major tourney championship to his name, and what do you know: It's this one. He won at Melbourne in 2008, besting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.

One title to none isn't an insurmountable margin by any means, and elsewhere in both men's career records you'll find them evenly matched. This will be their eighth meeting in tournament play. Djokovic leads the series, 4-3, but Murray's on a three-match win streak against his old pal. Expect a close, hotly-contested match tonight in Rod Laver Arena. Murray surely does:

“We’re good friends and we practice a lot together so there won’t be any secrets,” shrugged Murray. “It’s going to be a brutal match I think.”

Coverage of the 2011 Australian Open men's final begins at 3:00 a.m. EST Sunday on ESPN2.