Wimbledon, England: Novak Djokovic stood holding the surprisingly heavy winner's trophy, the silver, two-handled urn presented to the man who wins the Wimbledon singles title. Underneath his fingers, Roger Federer's name had been etched as many times as anyone else's. (Also read: No storybook finish, but hope for more chapters)
"The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Championship of the World," the inscription on the cup reads. (Also read: Thank you Roger for letting me win, says Djokovic)
But Djokovic's name was soon etched on it, too, for a second time, following a topsy-turvy five-set championship that Djokovic had in hand, then let slip, then clutched again.
His 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Federer came after Djokovic led two sets to one and held a 5-2 lead in the fourth set. But Federer does not give away Wimbledon championships easily, losing just once in his eight previous finals appearances. (Highlights)
In the end, when it mattered most, it was Federer who succumbed. His backhand splashed weakly into the net, and Djokovic's arms raised to the sky, lifting the fans from their seats for a standing ovation.
It is the seventh Grand Slam men's singles title in Djokovic's career, tying John McEnroe and Mats Wilander in eighth place on the career list. More important, it ended Djokovic's recent struggles in final matches, where he had lost three in a row and five of his last six attempts, dating to the 2012 French Open.
Last year, Djokovic, 27, lost to Andy Murray, who was buoyed by the hopes of Britain to become the first British men's winner in 77 years. Djokovic proceeded to lose to Rafael Nadal at both last year's U.S. Open and this spring's French Open. All those thoughts had to be in the back of his mind as the match Sunday looked to slip away.
There was just one service break in the first three sets, but five in the fourth, turning a well-played, metronomic match into crowd-pleasing chaos. Djokovic held a 5-2 lead in the fourth set before Federer won five games in a row to send the match to a fifth and deciding set.
Along the way, Federer staved off a match point with an ace - originally called out, but challenged by Federer and declared in, barely, by the electronic replay system.
It was a match of extended rallies often going deep into double digits. Increasingly, Federer tried to shorten the points by coming to the net, a serve-and-volley style reminiscent of Federer's first of seven Wimbledon titles, 11 years ago to the day.
It was a year ago that Federer lost in the second round at Wimbledon, his earliest Grand Slam exit in more than a decade. His ranking fell precipitously over several months, to No. 8 in January from No. 2 in May 2013.
There was speculation that the end of his career was at hand, undone by age and nagging injuries, but Federer never seriously considered retirement. He and his wife, Mirka, welcomed a second set of twins to the family this spring, coinciding with Federer's rejuvenated play.
Just more than a month from his 33rd birthday, Federer nearly became the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the Open Era, nearly a year older than Arthur Ashe when he won in 1975.
Federer will rise to a spot to No. 3 in the world rankings. The victory will lift Djokovic past Nadal and back into the No. 1 ranking that he last held in September 2013.
"It was a great final, can't believe I made it to five," Federer told the Centre Court fans after the match. "It wasn't looking good there for a while. I was hoping, who knows, it would maybe be enough."
The two were familiar foes, playing for the 35th time in their careers, and the 12th in a Grand Slam tournament. But it represented only the second time they had played in the final of a major, the other a Federer victory at the 2007 U.S. Open.
The match, for all its historical significance, had a direct link to the previous generation. Watching from the players' box were Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, former rivals who also played 35 times in Grand Slam matches and combined for five Wimbledon titles. Edberg has become a coach for Federer; Becker was coaching Djokovic.
Edberg has assisted Federer with his serve-and-volley play. It was a throwback strategy that Federer employed at this year's tournament in ways he had not in a decade, since men's tennis entered an era of baseline banging.
Becker hoped to steer Djokovic through the emotions of the tournament as Djokovic tried to regain his winning ways at majors.
© 2014 New York Times News Service