You couldn't watch Sunday's gentleman's singles final at the All-England Club without being touched by the salty droplets flowing from the eyes of opponents Marin Cilic and Roger Federer.
Cilic's tears flowed during the match, a full-blown blister on his left foot limiting his ability to move freely about the court, which is a necessity for anyone hoping to go toe-to-toe with Federer at Wimbledon.
But it wasn't the pain of the blister that caused his eyes to run like a river midway through the second set of Federer's straight-sets win, which is also the 35-year-old Swiss Maestro's record eighth Wimbledon title. Instead, in Cilic's post-match words: "(The blister) didn't hurt so much that it was putting me in tears. It was that feeling that I wasn't able to give the best. It was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through the last few months in preparation. I knew on such a big day that I'm unable to play my best tennis. That was a combination of all emotions because I know how much it took for me to get here."
Yet for all of Cilic's understandable frustration, it wasn't as if Federer had coasted to this epic moment, despite becoming the first men's (oops, gentlemen's) player since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to win the Wimbledon singles title without dropping a single set through the fortnight. More shocking, Federer was never down a break in a set through all seven matches.
Yet easy as that would seem to make his (also) record 19th major 19 years after his first Wimbledon match, it was anything but. Merely consider that when we last saw him at Wimbledon this time last year, Federer hobbling off the court on a bum left knee after losing to Milos Raonic in the semifinals.
At that moment, Federer three weeks from turning 35, no majors added to his trophy case since 2012, seemed relegated to the fast-fading twilight of a stunning career. The long good-bye had begun. He might somehow still compete for majors, a happy warrior teasing his fans with occasional flashes of his fabulous past, but he was never going to win another major. Ever.
But then came surgery, and six months off for rest and rehab.
And when all this serious tennis started up in January at the year's first major, the 2017 Australian Open, there, shockingly, was Federer, somehow outlasting his most bitter rival, Rafael Nadal, in five grueling sets to take home the trophy.
Now he's done it again, with the very realistic chance of winning a third at the U.S. Open in September, which would run his career total to an astounding 20, five clear of Nadal's 15.
Asked later Sunday if he even remotely thought he'd have a chance for such a scenario when this season began, Federer said, "None." He quickly changed that to "Well, maybe one."
So there sat Federer at courtside after his 19th major, sobbing tears of relief and joy as he looked up in his player's box to see his wife Mirka, his 7-year-old twin daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, and his 3-year-old twin sons, Leo and Lenny.
"I wasn't sure if I was ever going to be here again in another final after last year," Federer told various media outlets. "We never know what happens."
We never know. In any sport. That's what makes it fun. It's the original reality TV. Experts such as ESPN's Patrick McEnroe flatly said on Sunday that when Federer limped off Centre Court a year ago he believed the Fed had no chance to win another major.
Now he has 19 instead of the 17 he'd won at the start of this year. Now he again looks like the best player in his sport, maybe even better than ever. Now he looks as if he'll return to No. 1 in the world by the end of the year. And despite his odd wording regarding his future after both his Aussie Open triumph and Sunday's title, there would seem to be no reason — barring another injury — that he can't challenge for more majors a year from now.
"It's a dream to play here, really, and I hope this wasn't my last match," Federer told ESPN. The "I hope" line mirrored his words after the Aussie win, when he told the crowd: "I hope to see you next year. If not, this was a wonderful run."
You can't blame the hesitancy. Fed will turn 36 on August 8. By his own words, he now views his limited tournament schedule as "I feel like I'm working part time."
At some point that lack of repetition should start to work against him, though it certainly isn't to this point.
Still, what is more remarkable about Federer is his remarkable normalcy for someone who's won more than $100 million in total prize money and is said to be pushing $500 million in total wealth.
After all, this is a guy who told one media outlet earlier this year regarding his family: "I would be unhappy on the tour without them. I would retire. It's good for my mind, when I come back from a match and I've lost, they're there and don't care if you've won or you've lost. It's great."
Then there was this post-match quote from Fed on Sunday: "Winning eight is not something you can ever aim for. If you do, I don't know, you must have so much talent and parents and the coaches that push you from the age of 3 on, who think you're like a project. I was not that kid. I was really just a normal guy growing up in Basel (Switzerland), hoping to make a career on the tennis tour."
It's become the best career in the history of the men's game. And though we should all hope it won't end any time soon, if it does, to return to Fed's words, it's been one wonderful run.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.