After a tumultuous 12 months in which he thought his best was behind him, Novak Djokovic is a grand slam champion again.
Djokovic has broken a two-year major drought with a tense Wimbledon final triumph over spirited South African Kevin Anderson.
The Serbian secured his fourth crown at The All England Club – and 13th career major – with a 6-2 6-2 7-6 (7-3) win that was much less straightforward than the lopsided scoreline suggests.
After a sluggish start, Anderson threatened another famous fightback like his quarter-final recovery from two sets down against Roger Federer before Djokovic staved off five set points in the dramatic third set.
He eventually reigned supreme after two hours and 19 minutes to surpass the Wimbledon feats of all-time greats and three-time champions John Newcombe, John McEnroe and the Serb’s one-time coach Boris Becker.
Sunday’s victory also elevated the 31-year-old above Australian Roy Emerson into fourth place on men’s tennis’s all-time grand slam title leaderboard behind only Roger Federer (20), Rafal Nadal (17) and Pete Sampras (14).
The big three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have now amassed a staggering 50 slams between them to cement themselves as arguably the most dominant triumvirate in sports history.
Only Federer (8), Sampras (7), William Renshaw (7), Bjorn Borg (5) and Laurie Doherty (5) have won the sport’s greatest prize more times than Djokovic.
Djokovic’s victory also completes in the ultimate fashion his stirring comeback after a spectacular fall from grace last year.
The former world No.1 had been the first man since Laver in almost 50 years to hold all four majors at once after he swept to the non-calender-year grand slam with a career-defining French Open triumph in 2016.
But a chronic elbow injury and self-confessed troubles in his “private life” curtailed the Serb’s seemingly relentless charge towards tennis immortality as he relinquished all four trophies to lose his air of grand slam invincibility.
Now Djokovic has returned to his rightful place in the world’s top 10 after arriving in London two weeks ago ranked 21st, his lowest standing in the game in more than a decade.
“There is no better place to make a comeback this is a sacred place of tennis. This is really special,” Djokovic said after dedicating his victory to wife Jelena and their three-year-old son Stefan.
“I had to really trust the process, and trust in myself. I owe a great thanks to my team, everyone two have supported me when things weren’t so good.
“I had a surgery and was absent for the tour for six months and faced for the first time a serious injury.
“I had many moment of doubt and didn’t know if I could come back and this is my first slam final for a couple of years.”
Anderson had required 10 hours and 50 minutes to see off Federer and John Isner in successive sapping five-setters to reach the final – and it showed with the South African slow out of the gates.
After pushing a backhand wide, then firing a forehand long, he double-faulted to drop serve in the opening game of the match.
The errors continue to flow as Djokovic broke twice more to nab the first set in less than half an hour.
The second set followed a similar pattern before Anderson roared to life to finally mount a challenge.
The eighth seed conjured two set points with Djokovic serving at 4-5, with tensions reaching boiling point after the Serb saved the first in one of the wildest rallies of the match.
Sensing a Djokovic forehand was going long to allow Anderson back into the contest, the excited crowd burst into cheers, only for the ball to catch the line and the South African to lose the point after slipping over.
Livid by the disturbance, Djokovic demanded chair umpire James Keothavong tell spectators to “shut the f*** up”. He retained his cool to fend off three more set points before taking victory in a tiebreaker.