Novak Djokovic’s relentless pursuit of tennis immortality reached its biggest milestone with victory over Matteo Berrettini at Wimbledon that saw him equal Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles.
Federer had 16 titles when Djokovic won his second in 2011 but over the last decade the Serbian has hunted down his great rivals to achieve what had looked impossible, and the world number one does not seem likely to stop there.
His hard-fought 6-7 (4) 6-4 6-4 6-3 success against Italian Berrettini, who acquitted himself very well in his first slam final, made him the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the first three titles of the year.
He has already made it known he is chasing the Golden Slam – all four slam titles and an Olympic singles gold medal in one year, which only Steffi Graf has ever managed previously – and it is increasingly hard to see who can stop him.
Berrettini gave it a good go despite heavy strapping on his left thigh, recovering from a poor start to win the first set, but he was unable to become the first Italian winner of this big London final.
Djokovic, who has now won three consecutive Wimbledon titles and six in total, has been very open about his ambition to make history in the sport he has loved since first picking up a racket as a small boy but which has not always reciprocated.
This was arguably the biggest match of his career from that perspective and the nerves were all too evident in his first three service games as he hit three double faults and struggled to lift his second serve above 80mph.
But Berrettini was not loose enough to take advantage and soon found himself 5-2 behind and staring at a quick first-set deficit.
A change of momentum arrived after a long eighth game, which Berrettini finally held after eight deuces, saving one set point.
Djokovic still had a chance to serve it out but Berrettini was now able to move up a gear, unleashing a huge forehand on the first point, and, with the top seed still somewhat shackled by tension, his opponent seized his moment.
A forehand winner pushed down the line on break point was greeted by a huge roar from the crowd, who were predominantly behind the underdog, and they were on their feet when Berrettini won the tie-break.
He thumped his forehand, caught Djokovic out with the speed of his movement, and then took his first set point with a 138mph ace.
Djokovic had to come from two sets down against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final last month but he was straight on the offensive here, breaking Berrettini twice in a row to lead 4-0.
Djokovic had found his serve and a smoothness on his groundstrokes that spelled big trouble for Berrettini.
The crowd was waiting for a third set but Berrettini livened them up by winning a point with a between-the-legs lob and then again broke Djokovic when he served for the set.
Three set points came and went for Djokovic on his opponent’s serve but this time he shut down the comeback with a confident hold to love.
Umpire Marija Cicak, the first woman to sit in the chair for a men’s singles final at Wimbledon, had to call for quiet in the third set as sections of the crowd engaged in a verbal battle in support of their favourites.
Djokovic whipped up his fans after breaking for 2-1 and then saving two break points at 2-3, with which Berrettini’s chances in the set disappeared.
The advantage was with Djokovic but he was frustrated by unusual errors at tight moments and there was still a feeling it would not take much for the match to turn again.
At 2-3 in the fourth set, Djokovic found himself down 15-30 but played an unbelievable defensive point before winning it with a forehand, holding his finger to the sky as the crowd rose in appreciation.
Berrettini shot an exasperated look towards his team, and moments later he was down a break after double-faulting.
Djokovic bolted towards the finish line, clinching victory on his third match point when Berrettini netted a backhand and falling to the court in triumph.