Novak Djokovic went into Sunday’s Mens Final as the 2.45 outsider on BETDAQ against Rafael Nadal but crowned his rise to the world number one spot in perfect fashion with a dramatic 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3 victory.
The Spaniard was looking to make it three titles in four years at the All England Club and win back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles for the third time, but it was the player in his first final in SW19 who held his nerve the best.
Having been sublime in the opening two sets, Djokovic, the Australian Open champion in January, dipped in the third but he was not to be denied.
Djokovic, who will overtake Nadal in the rankings on Monday, said: “It’s really hard to describe in any words. It’s the most special day of my life. It’s my favourite tournament and I always dreamt of winning.
“I think I’m still sleeping and having a dream.
“Today I think I played probably my best match on grass ever.”
The Serbian has emphatically been the player of 2011, winning an astonishing 47 of his 48 matches before Sunday’s clash, with his only defeat coming against an inspired Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open.
His 41 consecutive wins included four over Nadal in the finals of Masters Series events, two of them on the Spaniard’s favoured clay, yet still Djokovic was not the favourite for the final in SW19.
Nadal had not been beaten at Wimbledon since a five-set loss to Federer in the final of 2007, and his record against Djokovic in grand slams read: played five, won five.
The start showed what the second seed was up against, with Nadal piling on the pressure and drawing gasps from the crowd with two thumping forehand winners.
But a man does not win 41 straight matches without having complete confidence in himself and his game, and slowly Djokovic began to turn things around.
Playing Djokovic must be the closest Nadal comes to facing himself – superb athleticism in defence, but crucially the ability to turn defence into attack with the flash of a racquet.
The Serbian began to come out on top in the long, brutal rallies Nadal so loves, and two stunning forehand winners took him to 30-30 with his opponent serving to stay in the first set.
Rarely does Nadal crack, but this time he did, dumping a tame shot into the net to hand Djokovic the set point and then missing with his favourite forehand down the line.
A lucky net cord took Nadal to 0-30 in the opening game of the second set but Djokovic was like a rock, and it was Nadal who was making the errors – more of them than he had in four sets of his semi-final against Andy Murray.
It was an important moment. Djokovic promptly created two more break points in the next game and he took the first with a beautiful dinked backhand off a Nadal drop-volley, celebrating as if he had won the match.
Murray had let the Spaniard off the hook but Djokovic simply got better, breaking again in the sixth game and clinching the set with ease.
The question was whether the 24-year-old would be able to keep up his almost superhuman level, and the answer arrived in the second game of the third set when a forehand error was followed by a backhand one and Nadal had his first break from his first opening.
The crowd had been waiting for a fightback, and they erupted. Nadal began to slow things down, forcing Djokovic to apply the pace, and his error count soared.
He saved two break points in game six but a third brought the first double fault of the match, and Nadal served out another emphatic set to love.
The opening game of the fourth set was now vital for Djokovic and he held firm, just, saving a break point. The pressure swung back to Nadal but he could not follow suit, ending a rally where the ball seemed to touch every line by netting a forehand.
The clouds grew ever darker and thunder rumbled in the background, which must have matched Djokovic’s mood when a Nadal return dribbled over the net to give him the immediate break back.
It was back to the tight, tense tennis of the first set, until the eighth game. Nadal started ominously with a double fault, and two more errors made it 0-40.
He saved one break point with a stunning forehand but on the second the coolest man in sport showed his nerves and blasted a forehand long.
Djokovic, the man who dreamed of lifting the Wimbledon title as a child, would serve for it.
A brave serve and volley gave him a first match point and this time Nadal had no answer, drilling a backhand long.
Djokovic’s box jumped up and down in celebration, the man himself knelt down, picked up a blade of grass and ate it before throwing his racquets into the crowd – the ultimate souvenir from a momentous day.