LONDON -- Novak Djokovic’s large lead in the rollicking Wimbledon final was slipping away, due in no small part to Roger Federer’s regal presence and resurgent play.
No man has won tennis’ oldest major tournament more often than Federer, and he was not about to let it go easily. Djokovic went from being a point from victory in the fourth set to suddenly caught in the crucible of a fifth, and knew all too well that he had come up short in recent Grand Slam title matches.
Steeling himself when he so desperately needed to, Serbia’s Djokovic held on for a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 victory after nearly four hours of momentum shifts Sunday to win Wimbledon for the second time -- and deny Switzerland’s Federer what would have been a record eighth championship at the All England Club.
"I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth and just handed him the win. But I didn’t, and that’s why this win has a special importance to me, mentally," Djokovic said. "I managed to not just win against my opponent, but win against myself, as well, and find that inner strength."
Cradling his trophy during the post-match ceremony, Djokovic addressed Federer directly, saying: "I respect your career and everything you have done. And thank you for letting me win today."
Even Federer had to smile at that line.
Truth is, Djokovic deserved plenty of credit for figuring out a way to raise his Grand Slam total to seven titles and allows him to overtake Rafael Nadal at No. 1 in the rankings.
"Novak deserved it at the end, clearly," said Federer, who hadn’t been to a Grand Slam final since winning his 17th major at Wimbledon in 2012, "but it was extremely close."
Federer, who turns 33 next month, won 88 of 89 service games through the semifinals and produced 29 aces in the final, but Djokovic broke him four times.
Federer went to the net aggressively, only to see Djokovic zoom more than a dozen passing shots past him. And with most of the Centre Court crowd of about 15,000 raucously cheering for Federer, the 27-year-old Djokovic kept believing in himself.
That part might have been the most difficult, given that Djokovic lost his past three major finals, and five of his past six, including against Andy Murray at Wimbledon last year, and against Nadal at the French Open last month.
"Started doubting, of course, a little bit," Djokovic said. "I needed this win a lot."
Boris Becker, the three-time Wimbledon champion who began coaching Djokovic this season, called the new champion "the biggest competitor" and praised "his sense of not giving up, giving it always another try."
"It could’ve gone either way in the fifth set," said Becker, whose former rival as a player, Stefan Edberg, coaches Federer. "Novak finds another way. He digs deep and finds another way."
Djokovic built a 5-2 lead in the fourth set and served for the championship at 5-3. But Federer broke there for the first time all afternoon, smacking a forehand winner as Djokovic slipped and fell on a patch of brown dirt.
Djokovic took a nastier tumble in the second set, hurting his left leg and prompting the first of two medical timeouts; he got his right calf massaged by a trainer in the fifth.
With Federer serving at 5-4 in the fourth, he double-faulted to 30-all, then netted a backhand for 30-40 -- handing Djokovic a match point.
Federer hit a 118 mph (190 kph) serve that was called out, but he challenged the ruling, and the replay showed the ball touched a line for an ace. That was part of Federer’s five-game run to force a fifth set. It would be another 42 minutes until Djokovic again stood so close to triumph.
"Can’t believe I made it to five," Federer said. "Wasn’t looking good there for a while."
In truth, after so much drama, the ending was anticlimactic. Trailing 5-4 but serving, Federer missed four groundstrokes, pushing a backhand into the net on Djokovic’s second match point.
Victory his, Djokovic knelt on the most hallowed tennis court in the world, plucked a blade of grass and shoved it in his mouth, just as he did after his 2011 Wimbledon title. He dedicated this victory to his pregnant fiancee "and our future baby," and to Jelena Gencic, his first tennis coach, who died last year.
"This is the best tournament in the world, the most valuable one," Djokovic said. "The first tennis match that I ever (saw) in my life, when I was 5 years old, was Wimbledon, and that image stuck (in) my mind."
Kvitova is crowned
LONDON -- Winning her first Grand Slam title three years ago at Wimbledon has made it that much easier for Petra Kvitova to handle the aftermath of her second at the All England Club.
There she was, sitting among yet another group of journalists wanting to ask her, probably, the same questions she had just answered in the roomful she faced minutes before.
It was three hours after she had completely dominated Eugenie Bouchard in the Wimbledon final Saturday -- a time frame three times longer than her 6-3, 6-0 victory over the Canadian.
But the 24-yearold Czech player was there smiling, joking and looking like she was reveling in the moment.
"I mean I am enjoying this more already than my first one," Kvitova said. "The first time, I didn’t know how it would feel, I didn’t know what to expect."
The expectations were what got to her after her 2011 title win here -- on and off the court. People thinking she would win every time she picked up a racket. New sponsor endorsements that took up more of her time, and fan days and media commitments at every tournament she played.
She managed for a time -- 2011 was a banner year with six tournament wins, including the season-ending WTA Championships. But frailties began to show in her game, culminating in a poor 2013 at Grand Slams -- Wimbledon was the only major at which she reached the quarterfinals -- and a slide in the rankings that nearly took her out of the top 10.
It began to make her wonder: Could she win another major?
Enter sports psychologist Michael Safer, who Kvitova calls her "mental coach."
He helped make her believe that she could.
"It took a lot of work," Kvitova said. "He helped me to handle the pressure during matches, it was very difficult and something I really needed to learn. I was playing well but something was missing, how I handled the pressure in key moments."
On Saturday, Kvitova used that mental toughness to transport herself into the "zone," a term often used by athletes to explain how they play above and beyond their usual performance levels.
Certainly the 20-year-old Bouchard witnessed it firsthand.
Dictating points with her big serve, aggressive returns and flat groundstrokes, Kvitova never let Bouchard get into the match. The Canadian looked down at the ground on one occasion and raised two hands as if to ask what could she do next to stop the onslaught.
The answer was nothing.
"She played unbelievable and didn’t give me many opportunities to stay in the rally," Bouchard said, "or do what I do."
Kvitova even surprised herself.
"I mean, a few shots (were) really incredible and I really couldn’t believe that I made it actually," she said. "Maybe it was magic."
Asked to explain the best thing that happened to her after her first win in 2011, she quickly said having a Wimbledon trophy to share with her parents.
And now a second one to take home to the Czech Republic the next time she visits her mother and father. Her dad, Jiri, celebrated his birthday on Sunday.
"I can’t say that it’s more special," she said when asked to explain the difference. "But definitely after three years to stand here with the trophy again, it’s absolutely amazing."