The match flirted with the record for the longest match at Melbourne but eventually ended short by 24 minutes, in four hours, 50 minutes.
Tired Novak Djokovic beats Andy Murray in Australian Open semi-final
Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, fought off what appeared to be breathing problems and fatigue to advance to the final of the Australian Open following an epic five-set semi-final victory over Britain's Andy Murray.
The Australian Open champion, who said he had breathing problems in his quarter-final against David Ferrer, looked tired throughout the match but still managed to win 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-5 in four hours, 50 minutes.
The semi-final flirted with the record for the longest match at the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal beat Fernando Verdasco in five hours, 14 minutes in 2009.
Murray had looked the more dominant throughout the first three sets as the Serb's fatigue became more apparent as he put little pace on the ball and was seemingly just willing to get it back into play and hope Murray made a mistake.
The match, however, turned in the fourth set when Djokovic raced through it in 25 minutes after he jumped out to a 4-0 lead when he conceded just four points.
He had raced to a 5-2 lead in the final set, but Murray fought back to level it at 5-5 and held three break points in the 11th game, before Djokovic fought back and then broke to seal his final place against Nadal.
"Evidently it was a physical match ... it was one of the best matches I played. Emotionally and mentally it was equally hard."
It was a bitter setback for Murray, who lost the previous two Australian finals.
Djokovic finished last year at No 1 after winning three of the four majors, including a straight-sets win over Murray in the Australian final. His only loss at a Grand Slam in 2011 was against Roger Federer in the French Open semi-finals.
It was phenomenal season after previously only winning one major – the 2008 Australian Open – and not returning to a final for 11 Grand Slams.
"To be honest, I think I matured as a player. I started to believe on the court I could win majors," he said. "Rafa and Roger are the most dominant players for the last seven, eight years. ... It was very hard to take away the titles from them. They will not give you the titles. You have to earn it."
"I'm extremely delighted to be in the final," Djokovic said. "What can be a bigger challenge than playing against Rafa Nadal, one of the greatest players ever.
"I'm going to try to recover. Obviously it's going to be physical as well. So I need to do some push-ups tonight."