NOVAK DJOKOVIC strengthened his case to be classed as the greatest male tennis player in the professional era as he joined Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal on 20 Slams.
In an enthralling three-hour gladiatorial battle on Centre Court, the Serbian wore down Italian Stallion Matteo Berrettini 6-7 6-4 6-4 6-3 to celebrate his sixth Wimbledon crown and third successively.
More significantly it means Djokovic has drawn level for the first time with the two biggest rivals of this era in the overall major stakes.
And should he win the US Open in a few months’ time – few would bet against him doing so given his current form – the world No.1 would complete the first calendar Slam on the ATP Tour since Rod Laver in 1969.
Until this afternoon, Djokovic, 34, had always trailed Federer, 39, and Nadal, 35, but he is now expected to overtake both of them before hanging up his racket.
Some might argue that in terms of aesthetics Federer should be called the greatest.
Some might say Nadal is the more determined competitor and his French Open dominance remains unparalleled.
But if it ends up being a numbers game then Djokovic could be the one to end all the arguments with the better stats package.
At least this final was not one-sided and the rookie Roman gave a good account of himself in a first major final.
Indeed most observers would agree that Berrettini has the most powerful and lethal serve-and-forehand combination in tennis, having crashed down 101 aces in his previous six matches this past fortnight.
But with strapping on his left thigh and enormous tension in his arm, the 25-year-old struggled to replicate that form in the early skirmishes, initially failing to establish any power or accuracy in his serving motion.
The more experienced Djokovic, appearing in his 30th Slam final, led 4-1 and then 5-2 and it appeared as if he would steamroller his way to the opening set like he has done countless times against many sacrificial lambs.
Yet once he had settled properly, Berrettini managed to survive the setpoint and eventually forced the tie-break, which he spectacularly won with a 138mph ace down the middle.
It was the first set Djokovic had lost since the opening one against young British hope Jack Draper in the first round of the tournament.
It was certainly a huge surprise for everyone in Centre Court that the underdog would take the first blood but a 70-minute opening set was not what people wanted given their plans for the football at 8 pm.
Berrettini came here on the back of an 11-match unbeaten streak on grass and he had never lost on this surface after claiming the first set.
And he was even pulling out the crowd-pleasing shots, particularly one through-the-legs hot-dog lob which caught Djokovic off guard.
However, Djokovic is one wily old competitor and has been in worse holes than this, and he soon levelled up at 1-1 in a more business-like manner.
After changing into new shoes, Djokovic suddenly had a spring in his step, producing just three unforced errors and gaining a decisive break of the Berrettini serve in the third game that helped propel him towards a 2-1 lead.
Even if Berrettini played the match of his life from this point onwards, he was always going to be up against it and Djokovic was not going to waste his shot at destiny.
The Sun (UK)