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Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Updated: January 27, 10:04 AM ET
Will Novak Djokovic recover in time?

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- How to interpret Novak Djokovic's match against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open?

Should Djokovic get credit for fighting through his health issues Wednesday night, or will people roll their eyes, reminiscing about other encounters when his body deteriorated? It's happened at all four majors, not the career Grand Slam he'd want.

More importantly, what kind of an effect will it have in his next tussle, in the semifinals Friday against Andy Murray in a repeat of the 2011 finale? Murray, unlike the dogged but lacking-in-belief Ferrer, is sure to take advantage of any physical problems.

Djokovic also struggled for a while in the fourth round, extended to four sets against Lleyton Hewitt after leading by two sets and 3-0.

"I think he's OK," said retired Aussie Grand Slam winner Fred Stolle. "It's just a matter of him breathing better. He's had those problems before, but I wouldn't worry too much."

Djokovic isn't concerned, either.

He clutched at his leg early in the second set, giving Ferrer hope that he could engineer an upset of a banged-up world No. 1 in the quarterfinals of the tournament for the second straight campaign. He ended hopes of the so-called "Rafa Slam" 12 months ago.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic has a long history of breathing problems. How will that affect him versus Andy Murray?

But by the time the match ended in straight sets, Djokovic seemed to be moving freely. He expects the breathing difficulties to sort themselves out in time for Murray.

"I don't have any physical issues," Djokovic said in his news conference. "I feel very fit and I feel mentally, as well, very fresh. It's just today I found it very difficult after a long time to breathe because I felt the whole match my nose was closed a bit.

"I have no concerns of recovering for the next match. It's just a matter of breathing through the nose."

Djokovic is trying to successfully defend a Grand Slam crown for the first time -- it's only his second attempt -- and maintain his dominance of the men's game. Murray, meanwhile, is still trying to end his, and Great Britain's, men's Grand Slam drought, which has now surpassed 70 years.

If he knocks off Djokovic, he's sure to take plenty of confidence into what would be his fourth Grand Slam final. Murray went 0-3 against the big three in Grand Slam semis last year and is 4-6 versus Djokovic overall.

A passive Murray was crushed by Djokovic in the 2011 final, let down by two familiar culprits, the serve and forehand.

Murray served at less than 50 percent against exciting Japanese baseliner Kei Nishikori in his quarterfinal, although he attributed that to a sore neck. He's breezed through the draw since a tough opener, perhaps taking advantage of tired foes. His new coach, Ivan Lendl, is happy enough.

Djokovic, though, represents a huge step up.

"I've always liked playing against him," Murray said. "And yeah, after the year he had the loss [in the final] didn't look so bad six months later. It would be a good marker to see how I've improved since last year."

Stolle thinks he has a "good" chance, so long as he gets his first serve working.

"It's the best I've seen him play out here for two years, and I've called three of his matches," said Stolle. "Lendl's been a good influence on him and seems to have been a positive where he's not fooling around. The problem with Murray was that he'd play a good set, then he'd start to fool around, and now he's out there and he gets the job done. I think that's to do with Lendl telling him those things."

Lendl, known as an ironman on tour, probably wouldn't mind seeing Djokovic dip physically again.

Prediction: Djokovic in four.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.