Novak Djokovic saved two Championship points against an inspired Roger Federer at 8-7 down in their fifth set tiebreak and somehow managed to emerge victorious during a classic at SW19 – winning his fifth Wimbledon title in the process.
After four hours and 57 minutes, Djokovic closed out a 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 victory. Outrageous.
He had no right to do so, but winning ugly when the odds are stacked against you is part of the Serbian’s mantra.
Having to beat an in-form Federer after his four-set victory over Rafael Nadal in Friday’s semi-final, as well as an unashamedly partisan crowd all longing for the Swiss to prevail was never going to be an easy task.
But even despite being on the back foot for large periods, Novak assumed the villain role to perfection and greeted the 15,000 crowd with a devilish smile after converting his first and only Championship point.
It’s why he’s the best, still world number one and someone that many love to quietly dislike: a machine-like performer who effortlessly frustrates opponents with ridiculous shots and awe-inspiring defence.
Now he has 16 Grand Slams to his name, edging ever closer towards Nadal (18) and Federer himself while firmly in the debate for the sport’s greatest ever player.
Younger and fitter than both, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t surpass the pair before inevitably retiring at some stage in the next decade. But Roger’s own achievements – becoming the oldest player in a Grand Slam Final – is welcome inspiration too. He turns 38 next month.
“I feel great, I gave it all I had,” Federer revealed courtside. “I’m still standing, I’ll take some time to recover.”
This defeat will hurt him badly and rightly so too. He failed to convert two match points and generally played pivotal moments poorly, whether through questionable shot-selection or needless mistakes when the pressure was at its highest.
Records aplenty were broken during a final for the ages, memorable for longevity and momentum swings as the pair’s shot-making was a joy to behold.
Novak made Roger work exceedingly hard and although he was still successful at certain stages, it was not enough.
Federer was the better player on the afternoon, served like a phenom and left Djokovic exasperated between points whenever it wasn’t his service game.
But sport is cruel and unforgiving. Novak’s relentless nature, bullish attitude and perseverance meant he was never fully out – even when the proverbial chips were down in that deciding set.
Post-match, Djokovic said: “If not the most exciting and thrilling finals of my career, in the top two or three and against one of the greatest players of all time.
As Roger said, we both had our chances. It’s quite unreal to be two match points down and come back – and a bit strange to play the tie-break at 12-all. Roger said he hopes it gives other people hope they can do this at 37. I’m one of them.”
Federer was untouchable at times and played some tennis that left many purring, but it didn’t amount to anything. Harsh yes, but he holds himself to those high standards and will reflect on a missed opportunity, squandered chances with time not on his side as he continues to age.