LONDON — Roger Federer thought it was going to be enough. Except it wasn't—for him.
For tennis, for those who love any sport for the beauty and tension of competition, for those who love athletic brilliance, it was more than enough.
It was almost too much.
It was three hours, 56 minutes of ripping serves and delicate backhands, of graceful drop shots and blazing forehands that dug both into Wimbledon's worn-out grass and into our memory.
Federer woke up the echoes. He played magnificently. What he didn't do Sunday in his ninth—and perhaps last—Wimbledon final was find a way to beat Novak Djokovic, who somehow did find a way to beat his demons and the person across the net.
"Thank you," the man nicknamed the Djoker said to Federer, "for letting me win today."
A laugh came from the 15,000 at Centre Court, after a day of gasps and grimaces, cheers and groans, a day when the sun was high and the drama was deep.
Federer, who will be 33 in a month, was battling and surviving. Djokovic, 27, was struggling and surviving—against Federer and against himself.
When the match came to an end just past 6 p.m. in London, when Djokovic had a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 victory in a men's final that met our expectations, if not those of Federer—"I don't think I played my absolute best," he said. "I couldn't break for four sets"—Djokovic had his second Wimbledon and seventh Slam overall.
"I don't know how I did it," said Djokovic, emphasizing he had a 5-2 lead in the fourth set and lost five straight games and the set. "I had to compose myself."
Federer is always composed, and because he has been such a fixture at Wimbledon, winning seven times, most of the crowd, which included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, favored him.
His points elicited roars that shook the property.
"I can't believe I made it to five," said Federer, who as a tennis player is nearing his dotage. "It wasn't looking good for a while. But then I was thinking it was going to be enough. I enjoyed the love from the fans, and I only can say congratulations to Novak."
Djokovic, the Serb, the No. 1 seed, the guy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the French final, Nadal in the 2013 U.S. Open final and Andy Murray in the 2013 Wimbledon final, seemed to be playing scared for a while, playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
That happens when someone who has been so close so many times gets close again. Oh, the thoughts that dance in the brain.
"I wasn't just playing against an opponent," Djokovic conceded. "I was playing against myself. The only way I could have won the match today was not to let my emotions get in the way."
The bigger the game, the larger the pressure. We know that.
Djokovic knows that. And when the lead was inside out, Djokovic was hoping the other person made the errors.
"I was hoping Roger was going to miss his first serve," said Djokovic. He didn't miss many. Federer had 29 aces.
What he did miss was the opportunity to break Djokovic's serve the first three sets. Then in the fourth, Federer broke three times. Yes, it was crazy and wild, if not as wild as the 2009 final when Federer defeated Andy Roddick, 16-14, in the fifth. Federer was in full flight those days.
Now he doesn't quite soar, but he gets where he's going. And the fans got what they wanted: a long day of watching the man who now again is No. 1 in the rankings, Djokovic, and the man who has won a record 17 Slams, Federer.
"I thought the match was a good one," said Federer, his enthusiasm banked because of the defeat. "I thought it had everything for the fans to like. The swing of momentum in the first set, coming back in the second. From that standpoint I thought it was an interesting match."
It was more than interesting; it was captivating. It was Alabama-Auburn, Yankees-Red Sox, Red Wings-Blackhawks. It was one of tennis' better rivalries, between the longtime king and a player who has the tools if not the nerves to replace him—Nadal not withstanding.
Federer made it to the final, a surprise of sorts when Nadal and Murray did not, and because he had beaten Djokovic 18 of the 34 times they had met, there was a belief he had a mental edge, if not a physical one.
The player who is nearing the end of his greatness against the player whose greatness takes a vacation at the worst of times. But, fortunately, not this time.
"I was just overwhelmed," said Djokovic when asked about his muted reaction at the end of the match, no tumbling to the court or leaping about. "I was not surprised. I was just trying to enjoy the moment."
He did. We all did. A fine afternoon of sport.
Art Spander, an award-winning columnist, has covered more than 50 Grand Slams in his career. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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