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Novak Djokovic defeat Roger Federer in a longest ever final to clinch his fifth Wimbledon title

There had been 255 singles matches played at this year’s Wimbledon, and only on the very last one had it come down, magnificently, to the new 12-12 tiebreak.

Somewhere deep inside him Roger Federer must have been asking, ‘How did it come to this?’

He had created so many chances to put this contest away, to collect a ninth Wimbledon title and 21st Major, to inch him further ahead in the overarching battle between him and his two great rivals to see who can end up with the most.

On each occasion some part of his game had spontaneously combusted or he had been faced down by the most unyielding of opponents.

Having failed to convert two match points at 8-7 in the decider one last opportunity presented itself with a third tiebreak but he could not seize it, the 32 year-old Serb again the stronger man in tennis’s equivalent of the penalty shootout.

Perhaps appropriately, given the simultaneous cricketing drama playing out across the other side of town, it all ended with a skier. Federer’s attempted forehand shanked off the edge of his racket and it was all over.

An extraordinary 122-minute deciding set had ended in a 7-6 1-6 7-6 4-6 13-12 defeat that comprised the longest men’s Wimbledon final in history after four hours and 57 minutes.

To think that until this point the view was that the 12-12 limitation had been something of a non-event at these Championships, having only been seen in one solitary doubles encounter.

Djokovic, probably the greatest returner of serve tennis has ever seen, had got back both of Federer’s opening deliveries in the last tiebreak, helping carry him to 4-1. A backhand down the line had taken him to 6-3, from where he finished it off.

These are the two shots that are most responsible for him being the player he is, now the owner of five Wimbledon titles, the same as Bjorn Borg. On sixteen Majors, increasingly it looks like he could overtake Federer’s 20 and the eighteen of Rafael Nadal.

That the Swiss was not celebrating at London’s Guildhall last night was down to the fact that in this sport it is not just about how many points you win, but when you win them.

The final tally was in his 218-204 in his favour, but it was a failure to clinch them when it most mattered that was his undoing.

It is why he will come to look back on this as one of the most painful losses of his career, not being able to follow up his semi-final win over one great rival by putting away the other.

Especially raw will be the memory of the two match points fashioned at 8-7 in the fifth set. He played beautifully to get to 40-15, but pushed a forehand wide from the deep on the first.

On the next one he hit an approach that was too short and, following it in, found a cross court forehand ripped past him that he could barely flail at.

The truth is that he should have won all five sets, having played the most enterprising tennis in all of them.

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