Novak Djokovic denied Roger Federer a record ninth Wimbledon title in one of the most dramatic finals ever played at the All England Club.
The Serb world No. 1 won the first tiebreaker ever staged in a Wimbledon singles match after introduction months ago of a new rule which saw the decider kick in at 12-all in the final set.
The colossal Sunday struggle lasted for a shade under five hours, with Federer unable to salt away his 21st Grand Slam title despite two match points at 8-7 in the fifth set.
Instead, Djokovic saved them both – from a Federer error and a winning pass – and kept the battle alive.
The classic fifth featured every kind of permutation, with a pair of breaks and break-backs which eventually sent the contest into the newly approved tiebreaker.
Djokovic struggled in the 23rd game to take a 12-11 lead after saving two break points both involving challenges settled by Hawk-Eye.
Federer sent over his 25th ace to bring on the tiebreaker in the longest match played at this edition.
The Swiss fell behind 4-1 but was caught out as Djokovic sent a winner down the line for three match points of his own.
That point had to be replayed as result of a challenge, with the Serb emerging with the victory on a Federer mis-hit return.
Djokovic, with five Wimbledon trophies, now has won 16 titles at the majors, trailing Rafael Nadal on 18 and Federer with 20.
After being told in a post-match interview that the epic would long be remembered,
Federer quipped: “I’ll be trying to forget it.” It was a great match. We both played some great tennis.
“In a way I’m happy with my performance. Novak played great – this was just crazy.”
Federer, with 94 winners and 61 unforced errors, said he still feels good with his game after two decades as a professional.
“I hope I give people a chance to believe that it’s not over at 37 yet.
“I couldn’t have given more, I feel good – I’m still standing, I gave all I had.”
Djokovic called the final “if not the best then one of the top two or three of my career against one of the greatest of all time”.
“I respect Roger a lot. Unfortunately, one player has to lose. We both had our chances.
“We were both suffering in this match.
“It was quite unreal to come back form two match points down … and it was strange to play a tiebreaker at 12-all.
Djokovic’s five Wimbledon titles puts him level with Bjorn Borg in the record books.
“When I was 3-4 years old, I would dream of being a player. This was always the tournament I wanted to win.
“I would make little trophies out of things in my room, imagining being here.. This has always been the tournament for me.”
Federer was competing in his 12th final here and now stands 22-26 against Djokovic in their career series.
Federer, who put out Nadal in the semis, has never defeated both Nadal and Djokovic in the same Grand Slam tournament; he and the Serb were facing off for the 16th time at a Grand Slam, and their third here.
Victory by Djkokovic, 32, extends the streak of Grand Slam titles won by players aged 30 or older to 12 in a row.
The last player aged younger than 30 to win a major title was Andy Murray (29 years 56 days) at 2016.
Djokovic took the early lead in an opening set which went into a tiebreaker, with Federer fighting from 3-5 down in the decider but failing to finish off the comeback to drop the opener after almost an hours.
But the roles were reversed in a lightning 25-minutes second set, with the Swiss second seed blitzing through to level at a set apiece as Djokovic donated a double fault on set point and managed a mere two winners.
The unpredictability continued in the third set.
Federer missed on a set point in the 10th game with Djokovic holding for 5-all. As the set went to another tiebreaker, the Serb sprinted to 5-1, with Federer unable to fully close the gap.
The Swiss floated a return wide for two set point to Djokovic, with only one required as the top set took a 2-1 lead on sets.
But in the fourth, Federer turned the tables once again, running off two breaks of serve but facing a break point for the first time after two hours, 47 minutes of play.
He saved it by winning a spectacular 35-shot rally only to fall, but dropped the game for 5-3.
Federer finished off the set and took it into a deciding fifth set with a winner on the first of three set points.