Judging by his subdued post-match press conference here tonight you might have thought that Andy Murray had just lost to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, but the Scot was all too aware that his biggest challenge is yet to come. Not even beating the greatest player in history for the first time in a Grand Slam match or playing some of the best tennis of his life in a thrilling 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory was a cause for celebration. The only thought in Murray's mind was to preserve his energy in preparation for tomorrow's final against Novak Djokovic.
In the Open era no player has ever followed up his maiden Grand Slam title with victory in the next event – the last player to do so was Lew Hoad in 1956 – and Murray knows the size of his task as he attempts to build on his victory over Djokovic in last summer's US Open final.
Djokovic, the world No 1, has won the title here three times and was in sensational form in his semi-final on Thursday against David Ferrer, after which Brad Gilbert, Murray's former coach, said he had "never seen anybody hit the ball better or more cleanly". Not only does Djokovic have the advantage of an extra day's rest before Sunday's final but he also had a much less strenuous semi-final, Murray having taken four hours to reach his sixth Grand Slam final.
When Murray was asked why he appeared so downbeat after such a memorable victory, he replied: "It was a long, long match. It's a very late finish. I'm tired. I don't want to be wasting any energy, because I'll need all of it if I want to win against Novak on Sunday."
Murray added: "I'm sure I'll be tired tomorrow and stiff and sore, so I need to make sure I sleep as long as possible tonight, do all of the recovery stuff. I'll hit very little tomorrow, I would have thought. I'll just try my best to be in the best possible condition for Sunday. Realistically you're probably not going to feel perfect because of how the match went tonight, but it's not to say you can't recover well enough to play your best tennis.
"I'll have to be ready for the pain against Novak, it's usually a physical match."
If confirmation were needed that Murray and Djokovic have replaced Federer and Rafael Nadal as the game's greatest rivalry, it came with the 25-year-old Scot's masterful victory over the 31-year-old Swiss. The scoreline did not reflect Murray's superiority. But for the two tie-breaks, in which the Scot played poorly by comparison with his level at other times, and one loose service game early in the fourth set, the world No 3 was much the better player.
Having proved that he could beat Federer in a five-set match with his emphatic victory over the Swiss in last summer's Olympic final, and with his confidence reinforced by his victory over Djokovic in New York, Murray never looked overawed.
Federer, 17 times a Grand Slam champion, can intimidate any opponent with the quality of his play, but it was the Swiss who looked rattled as Murray took charge. After the Scot had cracked one of many passing shots beyond his reach towards the end of the fourth set Federer shouted angrily at Murray, who responded with a simple smirk.
Both players downplayed the incident afterwards and refused to reveal what Federer had said – "It was very, very mild in comparison to what happens in other sports and there were no hard feelings," Murray said – but the incident underlined the pressure Federer was under.
"I thought I did a good job tonight," Murray said. "I think I did all the things I needed to do. I did them well. Even after the second and fourth sets, which were tough to lose, because I was in good positions in both sets. I was just happy with the way I responded after both those sets."
Murray said it was "satisfying" to beat Federer in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. "I've obviously lost some tough matches against him in Slams, so to win one, especially the way that it went tonight, was obviously nice."
Federer, generous in defeat, agreed that Murray had been the better player. "I think he started off serving well and in the fifth set obviously he did well," Federer said. "I think he played a bit more aggressively because he did create more opportunities over and over again."
Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, was delighted with the way his man had responded in the fifth set after Federer had twice drawn level. "That is what he trained for," Lendl said. "He trained for it physically and he trained for it mentally. He tried to focus on every point in practice – then it is easier in the matches that way."
Murray is through to his third successive Grand Slam final – he lost to Federer at Wimbledon and beat Djokovic in New York – and with today's win he became the first British player to reach three Australian Open finals. It also tied him with Fred Perry's British record of 106 match wins in Grand Slam tournaments. Federer, meanwhile, has become the player over whom Murray has recorded the most victories (11); Nadal is the only other active player who has won more matches against the Swiss than he has lost.
Djokovic beat Murray in a five-set marathon in last year's semi-finals here. Asked how he thought their two games compared now with 12 months ago, Murray said: "I think so much of it comes down to how you play on the day. I think I started to play better tennis and played my optimum level more in the big matches over the last year or so, which hadn't always been the case. I think that's what's changed for me.
"Two years ago he didn't lose a match for the first six months, so it's tough to know whether you can actually improve from that. But he's still No 1 in the world, he was in the US Open final, the French Open final, the Wimbledon semis and he's in the final here."
Murray gets fruity: Andy bites the bullet
Andy Murray once described bananas as "a pathetic fruit", but he munched several in beating Roger Federer today. "I've always had them because of what they have in them," he said. "I'm still not a fan." That was clear in Murray's autobiography. "They don't look great," he wrote. "They're not straight. I don't like the black bit at the bottom. I'm more a peaches and plums sort."
Murray's Grand Slam finals
2008 US Open, lost to R Federer
After beating Rafa Nadal in a two-day semi-final, the Scot struggled against Federer, going down in straight sets at Flushing Meadows.
2010 Aust. Open, lost to Federer
The Swiss Master again barred the way for Murray as his wait for a first Slam title went on. The Scot put in an improved showing but still went down in straight sets again.
2011 Aust. Open, lost to N Djokovic
A second successive Melbourne final, Murray was blown away by his Serbian opponent in straight sets.
2012 Wimbledon, lost to Federer Ended 74 year wait for SW19 Brit finalist but again left wanting.
2012 US Open, bt Djokovic
Finally secured a Slam at the fifth attempt, outmuscling and eventually outplaying Djokovic.