Roger Federer tried to hold it in Sunday afternoon. You never want your children to see you cry. And with his twin daughters Myla and Charlene showing off their cheery Lilly Pulitzer dresses in the All-England Club players box, dad wanted nothing less than to lose his cool while holding the runner-up trophy for only the second time in his nine Wimbledon finals.
He even briefly broke into a smile when Novak Djokovic turned to him and said, "Thank you for letting me win."
But then Djokovic started talking about his own impending fatherhood and a single, salty tear soon rolled down Federer's right cheek.
After five sets, two injury timeouts for Djokovic and three hours and 56 minutes of extraordinary tennis -- without question the best men's match of the 2014 calendar year -- that tear may be as significant as any moment we remember from the most storied tournament in tennis.
That's because while this may not have been Federer's last chance to add to his record 17 majors, it was clearly his last best chance. The Swiss maestro turns 33 on Aug. 8, which is pretty much ancient by tennis standards, given the fact that the oldest male in the Open era to win Wimbledon was a 31-year-old Arthur Ashe in 1975, some 39 years ago.
Nor did Fed have to deal with longtime nemesis Rafa Nadal this time around, whom he's but 10-23 against lifetime. Also in his favor was that slightly larger racquet he's switched to, the one that seems to have made his one-handed backhand more reliable and powerful than it's been in years. And did we mention that Nadal went out early?
There was even the added advantage of Djokovic having been on the court five hours longer than Fed over the fortnight and that the Djokster often looked unhappy with his play. And, oh yeah, that Nadal guy lost a couple of rounds before he could face Fed in the semis.
So it was all lining up for him to win in five sets, especially after he spectacularly tied it up after four by shrugging off a match point with the help of replay -- a first-serve initially called out was rightly reversed to an ace ... and broke Djokovic three times in the fourth ... and had everybody on the planet not from Djokovic's native Serbia loudly pulling for him to win a record eighth Wimbledon.
This was the reason behind that lonesome tear that continues to make Federer the most beloved figure in tennis. That hunger. That passion. That resolve. Down 5-2 in the fourth to tennis's new No. 1, Federer somehow ran off five straight games when he absolutely, positively had to have them.
And having done that, he had to be destined for victory, didn't he? The Serb looked shot, both physically and mentally. Nor was such frustration only due to that fourth-set meltdown. The Djokster had met with similar painful fates in last year's Wimbledon final (Andy Murray), last year's U.S. Open (Nadal) and this year's French (Nadal again).
As his new coach, three-time Wimbledon champ Boris Becker, noted before this match: "At the end of the day, it's up to him and how he fights those inner demons."
The way Djokovic fought them in the fifth made him worthy of being called the Exorcist. He never gave in or gave up. No offense to Nadal or Andy Murray, the other half of the Big Four, but Djokovic at his best is the most complete player in men's tennis. He has impeccable timing, power and precision off both wings, he's the best service returner in the game and the best defender. And at least on Sunday he seemed to have removed the bats in his belfry.
"It was disappointing to lose the fourth set," said Djokovic. "The 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."
An emotionally and physically fit Djokster could prove big trouble for the rest of the tour for the remainder of the year, especially at the U.S. Open.
"I would not be surprised to see him go on an absolute tear now," noted ESPN analyst Darren Cahill.
Added fellow ESPN tennis guru Brad Gilbert: "I think he will dominate the rest of the year."
Once was the time no one dominated men's tennis more than Federer, who won 11 of 16 majors from 2004 through 2007. Strange as it seems, he's often looked closer to that form over the first half of this year than he has since that run. He even noted on Sunday, "This clearly makes me believe that this was just a stepping stone to many more great things in the future."
If he's right, men's tennis may about to be more interesting, balanced and just plain fun than it's ever been. Especially if Federer can add to his majors count in order to stay ahead of Nadal and allow his fans to reasonably argue that his 17-14 lead in majors makes him the greatest ever. One bit of ammunition to further that assumption -- take away each man's best surface (clay for Nadal and grass for Federer) and the Fed owns a 10-5 lead in majors played on hard courts.
But this much also felt true on Sunday, Federer saying of the match more than the result: "It had everything for fans to like."
Everything but an ending to avoid at least one lonesome, wistful tear.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.