On the eve of his Australian Open semi-final here today against Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray received advice from an old friend and rival. "Andy has to play more aggressively than usual," Rafael Nadal said after booking his own place in Sunday's final with victory over Roger Federer. "That's my advice, but probably my advice is not good. I lost the last six times I played against him."
Nadal's verdict sums up Murray's challenge. At this stage last year, if anyone knew how to beat Djokovic it was Nadal. He was world No 1, had won 16 of his 23 meetings with the Serb and had never lost to him in a final. In 2011, however, Nadal lost all six matches he played against Djokovic – all of them in finals – and ceded his world No 1 ranking to him.
As Ivan Lendl, Murray's new coach, has stressed, Murray's comprehensive defeat to Djokovic in last year's final here would have been regarded in a different light if it had come later in the season. Djokovic's year, in which he won three Grand Slam tournaments and seven other titles, was one of the most remarkable in tennis history.
While seeing Murray's defeat from a different perspective will not in itself provide a solution as to how he can beat Djokovic, there are other reasons to believe the Scot will not be steamrollered in the way he was 12 months ago. The presence of Lendl in his corner has boosted his confidence – and perhaps added to his stature in the eyes of his rivals – which in turn has been reflected in his more positive approach on the court.
Murray knows the importance of taking the game to Djokovic. In their first meeting after Melbourne, he played with admirable aggression in the final of the Rome Masters, where he served for the match before Djokovic won the deciding tie-break. Murray won their only subsequent confrontation, in the final of the Cincinnati Masters in August, when Djokovic retired with a shoulder problem, but only after he had been outgunned in the first set.
Brad Gilbert, one of Murray's former coaches, said on ESPN: "He's a different guy. He's got Ivan Lendl in his box. Put in the DVD of Rome and the DVD of Cincinnati, keep playing aggressive and doing what you've been doing here. I think it's going to be a close match. I think we're going five sets."
Last year's final was close until Djokovic upped the ante to make the only break of the first set when Murray served at 4-5. Thereafter the Scot faded rapidly, going 5-0 down in the second set as Djokovic turned on the power.
It was not the only time Murray's form dipped sharply. In last year's Wimbledon semi-final, Murray won the first set against Nadal, made a horrible mistake early in the second, lost 18 of the next 23 points and handed Nadal both the set and the momentum to win the match.
One of the key points that Lendl has stressed to Murray is the need to keep his focus and not let setbacks get the better of him. Lendl made a career out of such resilience, bouncing back from defeats in his first four Grand Slam finals to win eight by the time he retired.
Lendl sees a kindred spirit in Murray. "I think he has a lot to give and is willing to give all that it takes," he said. "You are only going to get out of it what you desire. I wouldn't say I got everything I wanted out of my career, but I wanted to win. I see a desire [in Murray], the same desire I had."