They came in their thousands to watch the man likely to hold the record for the most grand slam titles for years to come add another to his tally – and they did, although perhaps not the man they had in mind.
By outlasting Roger Federer in a colossal, almost five-hour final – the longest ever seen at the Championships – Novak Djokovic added a fifth Wimbledon crown and a 16th grand slam to his collection.
In doing so he moved to within four of Federer’s total and, with five years in hand on the Swiss maestro, greatly improved his chances of supplanting him at the summit of the all-time winners’ list.
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It might not have ended up being the most dramatic sporting contest in London on Sunday but this was a classic in its own right.
Indeed it may still be going on were it not for the introduction of a tie-break at 12-12 in five-set matches, which Djokovic won to finally seal a 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 13-12 (7-3) triumph.
Only once did Federer have the upper hand on the scoreboard – at 8-7 in the fifth – yet he carried the fight better than the Serb, whose win owed more to resilience and counter-punching.
Djokovic digs in
In a match that ebbed and flowed but in which Federer largely provided the flourishes, Djokovic dug in when his 37-year-old opponent was in the ascendancy and waited for his moment.
Those moments came in the tie-breaks, the 32-year-old winning all three of them to provide yet further evidence of his big-game mental fortitude.
Federer, meanwhile, will reflect on the chances that he failed to take, notably two Championship points in the 16th game of the deciding set that ran aground against the Djokovic defence.
The evergreen Federer, who turns 38 next month, had been hoping to become the oldest player to win a grand slam title in the Open era – and his ninth in all at Wimbledon.
That he is still getting to within touching distance of adding to his tally is nothing short of incredible and he did not look physically inferior even in the climactic stages.
As the shadows lengthened across Centre Court, both men appeared to miss routine shots due to fatigue, though Federer was no more guilty of that than Djokovic.
But at some point age will surely catch up with him, as it finally appears to be doing with fellow 37-year-old Serena Williams, denied an eighth Wimbledon title by Simona Halep on Saturday.
Federer potency in decline
Djokovic, on the other hand, is approaching his 2015-16 levels of dominance – in titles, at least – and looks ready to maintain a stranglehold on the big events in a post-Big Three age.
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Rafael Nadal’s success is increasingly confined to the 33-year-old’s favoured clay, while Federer’s advancing years are, despite his enduring excellence, chipping away at his potency. His last slam title was the 2018 Australian Open.
The man from Belgrade, meanwhile, has now lifted four of the last grand slam trophies. Five more and Federer’s place at the head of the all-time list is – injury permitting – surely now a matter of time.
Main image credit: Getty