Roger Federer has Wimbledon wondering what might have been after squandering successive match points to let slip the longest final in the tournament’s 152-year history.
Serving at 8-7 and 40-15 in the final set, Federer looked set to defy the doubters and Father Time to become the oldest grand slam champion in half a century of professional tennis.
Alas, for the third time against Novak Djokovic in his record-setting grand slam career, Federer walked off vanquished after blowing match points.
“I don’t know what I feel right now. I just feel like it’s such an incredible opportunity missed, I can’t believe it,” Federer said after his 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) gut-wrencher played over four hours, 57 minutes.
Had Federer won his 21st major, Djokovic, five years the Swiss’ junior at 32, would have needed seven more grand slam titles to surpass his 37-year-old great rival – a number most considered too much of a stretch even for the super Serb.
Now, Djokovic has closed to within four slams of Federer’s benchmark tally and has no plans of letting up.
And magnifying the fine margins, Federer has now lost five major finals in five sets – plus two semis against Djokovic after holding match points before the Serb went on to hoist the trophy on both occasions.
Federer, though, remains philosophical, insisting he no longer fusses about holding the grand slam record.
“Used to be a really, really big deal,” he said.
“When you were close, I guess two behind, then eventually you tie, then eventually you break, that was big.
“It’s been different since, naturally because the chase is in a different place. I take motivation from different places, not so much from trying to stay ahead because I broke the record.
“If somebody else does, well, that’s great for them. You can’t protect everything anyway.
“I didn’t become a tennis player for that.”
Putting on the bravest of faces, the stoic Swiss suspected his four children in the courtside box would likely be more deflated following the four-hour, 57-minute heartbreaker.
“They won’t be excited with a plate. They’d rather take that golden thing,” the 12-times finalist said after collecting a fourth runners-up trophy.
“But it’s nice to see them. We had a great week here and I love them and it’s back to (being) Dad and husband. It’s all good.
“Take it on your chin, you move on. I couldn’t give any more. I gave it my all and I still feel all right.”
For his part, Djokovic is content after emulating the five-time Wimbledon feats of legendary Swede Bjorn Borg (1976-80) and Englishman Laurie Doherty (1902-1906) in the most extraordinary fashion.
“This was, if not the most exciting and most thrilling final I was ever part of, then definitely top two or three against one of the greatest of all time,” said the jubilant world No.1.
“He inspires me, for sure. Unfortunately in these kind of matches one of the players have to lose.
“It’s quite unreal to be down two match points and come back and win. It was a huge relief in the end, honestly.
It was probably the most mentally demanding match I was ever part of.
“I had the most physically demanding match against Nadal in the finals of Australia that went almost six hours, but mentally this was different level, because of everything.
“I’m just obviously thrilled and overjoyed with emotions to be sitting here in front of you as a winner. It was one shot away from losing the match.
“It could have gone easily his way … I just try to never lose self-belief, just stay calm,” Djokovic said.
“Most of the match I was on the back foot actually. I was defending. He was dictating the play.
“I just tried to fight and find a way when it mattered the most, which is what happened.”
Federer won more points and more games, conjured more break points and delivered almost three times as many aces as the Serb, but remained philosophical.
“It really doesn’t matter actually,” Federer said.
“I know what I did well, how close I was. I don’t need to feel that way. I think I can be happy about my performance.
“It was a great match with wonderful points. It had everything. Novak played also amazing, so I hope it resonates in a big way.”