MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Top seed Novak Djokovic and defending champion Stan Wawrinka will brace for another epic clash at the Australian Open on Friday as they bid for a place in the final with Andy Murray.
Serb Djokovic and Swiss Wawrinka's five-set marathons at Melbourne Park in 2013 and 2014 were arguably the most thrilling matches at both tournaments, with the victors going on to hoist the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup as champions.
Friday's 'Showdown III' promises to be another engrossing spectacle and could prove equally defining for the tournament.
Both players have been in ominous form, Wawrinka humbling U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori in straight sets in his previous match and Djokovic doling out the same treatment to highly-rated Canadian Milos Raonic.
Losing to Djokovic, perhaps even more than beating him, was career-defining for Wawrinka, who wept bitter tears after being edged 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10 in the fourth round of the 2013 tournament, his 11th straight defeat to the Serb.
Wawrinka said he cried because he felt he could not have played any better and still lost. Djokovic would go on to notch his third straight Australian Open title.
The Swiss lost another five-setter to Djokovic at the U.S. Open in their next meeting and further losses at regular tournaments, but he was a raging ball of fire when he met him again in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park last year.
In a nerve-jangling match of the highest quality, Wawrinka bluntly refused to be beaten and Djokovic was the first to wobble, pushing a regulation volley into the tramlines to lose 2-6 6-4 6-2 3-6 9-7.
The victory generated enough belief for Wawrinka, long stuck in the shadow of compatriot Roger Federer, to go on and win his maiden grand slam.
He became the first player to break the grand slam cartel of Federer, Rafa Nadal, Djokovic and Murray since Juan Martin del Potro's shock 2009 U.S. Open win over Federer.
As champions tend to, Djokovic recovered from the loss to win his seventh grand slam title at Wimbledon and finished the year on top again.
He remains hot favorite to take back the throne at Melbourne Park but knows Wawrinka has the game and the composure when the stakes are raised deep into a fifth set.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Alan Baldwin)