MELBOURNE - Supremely confident Novak Djokovic is the hot favourite for a fifth Australian Open crown but he is expecting a draining battle with defending champion Stan Wawrinka to make Sunday's final.
Wawrinka upset the Serb world number one in the quarter-finals on the way to winning his first Grand Slam final in Melbourne last year and has shown so far he is not willing to give up his title without a big fight.
While seven-time major winner Djokovic has looked highly impressive in reaching Friday's semi-final without dropping a set and losing only one of his 74 service games, he must get past the Swiss fourth seed.
That is more easily said than done with all their three Grand Slam encounters and a Davis Cup tie running to five sets.
Djokovic has won all but one of those epic encounters and yet he will have to be on his guard after Wawrinka easily brushed aside US Open finalist Kei Nishikori in straight sets to reach his second consecutive Australian semi-final.
The Serb, who has a 48-6 match record in Melbourne, thrives on the Australian Open hard courts where he has never lost a final, while Wawrinka is in the midst of a 12-match winning run going back to last year's tournament.
"I feel very good about my game at the moment. Stan and I have played five-set matches in the last two Australian Opens," Djokovic said.
"I'm going to be ready for a fight. But knowing that I have raised the level of my performance and coming off playing the best match of the tournament so far, I take a lot of confidence into the next match."
Djokovic has progressively stepped up his campaign with strong wins against Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Muller and Milos Raonic in his last three matches and looks the player to beat for this year's title.
"Being the defending champion, he's got some of the pressure here," Djokovic added.
"He is facing this kind of pressure for the first time in his life. He's been playing some great tennis under the circumstances. Got to give him credit for that. I like Stan, respect him a lot." Wawrinka has only dropped one set to reach the semi-finals and has all the weapons - serve, forehand and backhand - to test Djokovic's defences.
"I know I now have a Grand Slam trophy at home. I also won the Davis Cup. I have confidence from that," he said.
"I know I can make it. I trust my game. I trust myself on the court even when we start to play in a semi-final or final at a Grand Slam." He added that he felt he was playing better than last year, adding more aggression to his game while being confident enough to come to the net.
"I don't feel pressure by defending the title because I don't come here to defend it. I come here as a new challenge, a new Grand Slam," he said.
"You have to play your best tennis if you want to push Novak. So far I'm playing great. I have confidence with my game."