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Murray returns to Melbourne monkey-free

Andy Murray of Britain hits a return during a practice session at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 12, 2013. REUT
Andy Murray of Britain hits a return during a practice session at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 12, 2013. REUT

By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Fighting Novak Djokovic to a standstill in a cliff-hanging Australian Open semi-final last year convinced Andy Murray he had what it took to win a grand slam title.

Struggling to swat away moths fluttering in front of his face, an exhausted Djokovic finally broke Murray's resistance in a pulsating 6-3 3-6 6-7 6-1 7-5 win taking almost five hours.

Despite the loss, Murray came away feeling he had got to within a whisker of a victory that would have sent him into his third Australian Open final.

That belief laid the foundation for a breakthrough 2012 season for the Briton.

"I learnt a lot from last year's semi-final," Murray told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday. It was a very important match for me in the context of my year.

"I felt like I played well. There was something I could really take away from it.

"I went about the match the right way. I was taking my chances. I wasn't waiting for him to miss. I was disappointed obviously, but it wasn't frustration.

"I got over that loss a lot quicker than I had some of my previous slam losses."

The 25-year-old Scot, who had lost three grand slam finals, used those lessons to great effect.

He reached his first Wimbledon final, losing to Roger Federer, before he returned to the grass courts of south-west London to beat the Swiss maestro for the Olympic gold medal.

Murray went on to beat Djokovic in the U.S. Open final to end Britain's 76-year wait for a men's grand slam champion.

"Obviously last year was by far my best year on the court," said Murray. "I had my first Wimbledon final, the Olympics was obviously a great experience, then my first grand slam.

"There were a lot of firsts for me last year, and that's pretty important."

Murray, who meets Robin Haase in the first round of this year's Australian Open, admitted a sense of relief in finally shaking the grand slam monkey off his back.

"I kind of maybe always felt like I was having to prove something every time I went on the court ... because I hadn't won a slam," he said.

"Even when you win a Masters series (tournament), people still asked me always about the slams. It's nice just to kind of not have to worry about that anymore.

"I think it will help me throughout the rest of the year on the tour because I just won't be worrying and thinking about the slams all the time. I can focus on all of the events."

(Editing by Alastair Himmer)

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