LONDON -- This is why they play the game -- and why we love it:
The 17-time Grand Slam champion, approaching the end of his reign, charging forward, fiercely into the fifth and ultimate set against the most consistently excellent performer of this day.
Facing match point deep in the fourth, Roger Federer challenged the out call of his first serve. Through the miracle of replay, it became an ace against Novak Djokovic. It was at that point you suspected something extraordinary was in the making.
There were magnificent strokes, dramatic netcords and even, on break point against him, a serve-and-volley second serve with a gorgeous half-volley pickup from Federer that left the BBC commentators laughing at how absurdly sublime their play was.
In the final analysis -- in the final two games, really -- Djokovic's game simply looked five years younger than Federer's. When Federer's final fragile backhand found the net, Djokovic was a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 Wimbledon winner.
After embracing Federer at the net, Djokovic fell to his knees, placed a pinch of the scorched grass in his mouth and savored the taste he has been hungering for every day of the past year.
The match, which clocked in at four minutes under four hours, was not merely an instant classic. It will endure.
Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title and reclaims the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal. It was his seventh major championship, which puts him in some nice company, along with John McEnroe and Mats Wilander.
"He's a magnificent champion," Djokovic said of Federer in his on-court interview. "I respect your career and everything you have done.
"Thank you for letting me win today."
"I just kept going," Federer said. "I couldn't figure out why I wasn't breaking Novak's serve or actually creating opportunities. I kept believing and kept trying to play offensive tennis. I'm happy it paid off in some instances.
"Novak deserved it at the end clearly, but it was extremely close."
Federer has given us some spectacular stuff on Centre Court. The last five-set men's final, five years ago against Andy Roddick , ended in Federer victory at 16-14. Before Sunday, Federer had played eight finals at the All England Club and won seven. The only time he lost -- in 2008, to Nadal -- it ended at 9-7 and might have been the greatest match ever.
That's what it takes to beat Federer on Centre Court.
But that was six years ago, when Federer was still in his prime. A month shy of his 33rd birthday, he is not quite as spry these days. Opposite Djokovic, Federer was bidding to become the oldest Wimbledon champion of the Open era. Arthur Ashe was 31 when he won here in 1975.
The wildly supportive Centre Court crowd nearly willed him to it.
So for now -- and possibly forever -- there will be no record eighth title here. Federer, Pete Sampras and William Renshaw, circa the 1880s, remain tied with seven.
Credit Djokovic for his uncanny perseverance.