Federer was the first of the pair to come within a point of taking the championship Sunday, too. Had two such chances in the fifth set, even.
Indeed, Federer dominated the historic match in nearly every statistical way. More than twice as many aces. More than twice as many breaks of serve. Nearly twice as many total winners.
And yet, in the only category that matters, the final score, Federer barely came up on the short end, losing 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) to defending champion Djokovic.
By ceding all three sets that went to a tiebreaker, including — for the first time at Wimbledon — the fifth, Federer was denied a ninth title at the All England Club and 21st Grand Slam trophy overall, which both would have extended men’s records he already holds.
“For now it hurts, and it should, like every loss does here at Wimbledon,” said Federer, who is now 8-4 in finals at the grass-court major, with three of those losses against Djokovic, including in 2014 and 2015.
As for how he will go about bouncing back from this sort of a heartbreaking defeat, Federer replied: “I think it’s a mindset. I’m very strong at being able to move on, because I don’t want to be depressed about actually an amazing tennis match.”
That is was.
They played for nearly five hours, making it the longest final at Wimbledon, where they’ve been holding this tournament since the 1870s. It surpassed the old mark established by the 2008 final, which Federer also lost in a fifth set, that one against Rafael Nadal.
One key difference with this one: The All England Club changed its rules to adopt deciding-set tiebreakers for the first time at 12-all.
“I’m the loser both times,” Federer said, “so that’s the only similarity I see.”
He wound up with 218 points to Djokovic’s 204.
Federer also led in aces, 25-10; service breaks, 7-3; total winners, 94-54.
Did a lot of damage at the net, too, winning 13 of 15 serve-and-volley points and 51 of 65 when he moved forward at all.
“Most of the match, I was on the back foot, actually. I was defending. He was dictating the play,” Djokovic said. “I just tried to fight and find a way when it mattered the most, which is what happened.”
After Federer went up a break at 8-7 in the last set, he served for the victory. He held two championship points at 40-15 and didn’t convert either one.
The match would go on for another 45 minutes and Federer would never get that close to winning again.
“Definitely tough,” Federer said, “to have those chances.”
On top of everything else, Federer also was stopped from becoming, less than a month away from his 38th birthday, the oldest man to win a major championship in the professional era.
“I hope I give some other people a chance to believe that, at 37, it’s not over yet,” Federer said.