To describe this final as riveting is to sell it a long way short. We knew beforehand that it would be intense. But there must be some official IBM match statistic somewhere to prove that the near 15,000 spectators on the Centre Court and goodness knows how many millions at home were entirely shorn of all fingernails at the conclusion, such was the nervous chewing of digits inspired by the extraordinary exploits on court. There was no more extraordinary moment than when Federer saved a Championship point at 4-5 in the fourth set. With Djokovic a heartbeat from his seventh Slam, the Swiss delivered what he believed to be an ace. The line judge called it out; Federer summoned Hawk-Eye and was proven correct. A few minutes earlier he had been 2-5 down, looking like a tired man running out of ideas, but it turned out to be a cunning disguise. With the aid of that pivotal challenge, he plundered five games on the bounce to take the match into the decider, and in those moments it seemed that destiny must be waiting for him. He would indeed become the oldest Wimbledon champion at 32 years 332 days; he would collect an historic eighth Wimbledon and 18th Grand Slam. It wasn't to be. The laurels were richly earned by Djokovic: for keeping his head after losing that Championship point and for seeing the match go into a decider when all the momentum had seemed to be with him. In that last set he battled all kinds of demons he needed the trainer for the second occasion in the match, this time to attend to his right knee in a medical time-out (previously it was his left ankle); he fended off a break point at 3-3 and then saw Federer save a whole clutch of break points himself. And all the while the crowd, forgivably, made no secret that their hearts were with the Swiss. Djokovic will not care. From the outset the intensity level was extraordinary. Federer was happy to come to the net, not so much intent on serve and volley as serve and attack. The quality of Djokovic's return was, as always, startling. The well-worn theory that Federer needed to keep the points short was blown away as the two went at it hammer and tongs, all the way to the breaker. Federer saved two set points before an unreturned serve gave him a chance of his own, and a Djokovic backhand went into the net. There was no telling which way the match would go. In the third, once again there was only one way to settle it, with a shootout. Federer opened with his fastest ace of the tournament at 127mph, one of 29 he would deliver in total. But Djokovic was racking up the passing winners, and then Federer sent a forehand wide for 3-5 when he had the court in his sights. It proved pivotal. Into the fourth, with all the momentum stacking up behind the Serb. As Djokovic neared 5-2, he urged the crowd to make more noise in appreciation of him, and they obliged. But it was nothing compared with their bellow of approval when Federer clobbered five straight games to take the match into the decider.
They wanted the Federer fairytale, but Djokovic was writing his own story. He had been generous in defeat long enough. As he notched up two more Championship points, he blew a kiss to the heavens in gratitude for another chance. One of those two did go by, but at the third opportunity Federer dropped a backhand in the net, and the title belonged to Djokovic.
Perhaps the Serb wanted to dance for joy, and maybe inside he was. Yet all he could manage was a peaceful smile. The journey is a long one, for those who seek Grand Slams. But the arrival is wonderful, and worth every step. Just ask Novak Djokovic.