Following the legend of Sisyphus in Greek lore, Djokovic has rolled the great boulder to the very top of the mountain only to lose control and see it tumble back down. This was Djokovic's fourth Grand Slam final of the past five, and he had lost the previous three. A year ago at Wimbledon, after a draining semifinal, Djokovic lost meekly to Murray in straight sets. He fell in four sets to Nadal in the US Open final and, last month, at the French Open.
Clearly, something has been missing at the end of these majors. That was the chief reason Djokovic and his team hired three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, who was a fiery fellow back in his day.
"At the end of the day," Becker said recently, "it's up to him and how he fights those inner demons."
He fought exceptionally well.
Afterward, Djokovic said it was the highest-quality major final he had ever played in, even better than the 2012 Australian Open final with Rafael Nadal.
"It was disappointing to lose the fourth set," Djokovic said. "They only way I could have won the match was by being mentally strong. I didn't let my emotions fade away, like they did at the French Open.
"I was able to defeat not only my opponent but myself."
Some things, apparently, never change. Federer's coach Stefan Edberg played Becker 35 times in their glorious 13-year rivalry -- and lost 25. Edberg, one of the great volleyers in history, has urged Federer to come forward more often, but Djokovic was more efficient, winning 26 of his 35 approaches.
Going in, there were a number of mitigating circumstances that suggested he had a chance. Djokovic, who has a history of fatigue deep in the majors, had spent more than four hours on the court in his previous six matches and, according to the statistical wizards, run three more miles. And while Federer advanced by seeming to hover over the charred grass of the baseline, Djokovic couldn't always keep his feet.
Though the two had met 34 times before, this one felt a little strange; it was the first Grand Slam final in nearly five years that didn't feature either Nadal or Murray. It was also the first time in nearly seven years that Federer and Djokovic met in a Grand Slam final.
Djokovic came out attacking Federer's one-handed backhand, but it held together nicely -- until the first-set tiebreaker. Federer raced out to a 4-2 lead, but three misfires on three consecutive backhands -- a leaning slice, one from the baseline and a service return -- and Djokovic suddenly had the advantage. Federer saved two set points with a forehand and a 123 mph ace then converted his first set point when Djokovic hit an oddly lackadaisical backhand into the net. It was sensational stuff, and it is worth noting that the 51-minute first set was only four minutes shorter than the entire women's final.
Federer weathered a spirited assault of his first service game of the second set but succumbed in the second. He forced things by following a less-than-stellar approach shot to net and leaned the wrong way as Djokovic stroked a magnificent backhand cross-court winner. It was only the second time in 98 service games here that Federer had been broken.