THE first ever Wimbledon final to be settled a deciding set tie-break only provided a fresh form of SW19 heartbreak for Roger Federer..

Lord knows, with 20 Grand Slams already under his belt, the Swiss legend is in no need for anybody’s sympathy this morning. Some 48 hours after he rolled back the clock to defeat Rafa Nadal, he spent five hours yesterday reprising that Peter Pan role as he largely out-played Novak Djokovic in a final which will at least enter the argument for the best one of all time.

Winning a total of 14 more points than his opponent, and chiselling out two Championship points, had he been able to knock off both historic rivals in back-to-back rounds here it would have gone down as the crowning glory in a career littered with success.

But forcing him to face another tie-break when he had already lost two to the remorseless resistance of the brick wall on the other side of the net seemed like a unique form of cruelty. A rule brought in only by the All England Club this year to prevent attrition-fests like last year’s semi-final between Kevin Anderson and John Isner, this time its implementation cut a classic final short.

Djokovic knows a lifeline when he sees one – even if he had to ask the umpire earlier in the day whether the new rules kicked in at 10-10 or 12-12. It was little wonder if his mind was already racing ahead to precisely this scenario. Because when Federer skied the ball, cricket-style, high into the stands on the first of three Djokovic championship points to complete a hat-trick of tie-break wins on the day, it was the Serb who could celebrate drawing level with Bjorn Borg on five Wimbledon wins. No wonder Mrs Federer hardly knew where to look. “They won’t be excited about a plate,” he said, as his two sets of twins were brought out for the presentations afterwards.

A match which eclipsed this pair’s 2014 and 2015 finals, once again her man had been unable to circum-navigate the Serb in a SW19 showpiece. It ended 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) in Djokovic’s favour, allowing his rival to eat into Federer and Nadal’s advantage with his 16th major title in all.

Federer mentioned afterwards that he was happy to give hope to other men that it is not over when they reach the age of 37. There seemed to be an extra gleam in Djokovic’s eye when he gleefully mentioned that he was “one of them”.

Since Federer claimed his last Grand Slam title in Australia in early 2018, Djokovic has won four. Blessed with that happy quality of winning tennis titles when he doesn’t even appear to be at this best, he is closing fast.

While this pair had 47 previous meetings to look back on, they have also had plenty of opportunities to hone their tactics pre-match. They had met only twice since January 2016 and not at all this year. Asked to give an assessment of the qualities of his final opponent, Federer had stressed his “jump back and to the left,” something which he felt has “won him numerous matches and trophies”. But the Serb had never had to defend on his backhand side against an onslaught like this, Federer flashing passing shots early on to that wing with huge velocity as well as precision at every available opportunity. By the end, he had hit 94 winners to Djokovic’s 54, and served 25 aces to 10.

The first set, we assumed, would prove crucial. I’m not sure it was. The Swiss, playing the more assured, eye-catching tennis, should have taken it. He forced the set’s only break point, just couldn’t capitalise. He was 5-3 up in the breaker too, before Djokovic reeled off four points in a row to take it 7-5. At 58 minutes, it lasted longer than the ladies’ final.

The Serb slipped behind the baseline in the first game of that second set but few could have expected his standards to slide too. The supremely focused Serb doesn’t tend to switch off but he went missing for half an hour and the set-score was level in a flash. When the Swiss slapped a forehand past him – again hard, flat and to Djokovic’s left – he had a double break at 3-0. By the end, his opponent had mentally begun to conserve energy for what was to come.

The real Djokovic was back for the start of that third set but again Federer had its only break point – and couldn’t take it. And again Djokovic emerged strongest in the tie-break, holding his nerve when the Swiss closed from 5-1 down to 5-4.

Into the fourth we went, Federer pouncing on a sloppy Serbian service game for a 3-2 lead, then being glad of the insurance policy of a double break. The first break point he had to face all day long was saved at the end of a 35-shot rally, and while that respite was temporary, Federer was still able to serve out to love..

But it was the fifth set, the first 12-12 in the history of the Wimbledon singles title, which will really elevate this 2019 final to the pantheon of greatness alongside the 2007 and 2008 finals with Rafa Nadal and the 2009 showpiece with Andy Roddick. Showing new-found strength, Djokovic got his nose in front with a blistering backhand pass to bring up 4-2 only to surrender his advantage immediately.

The pattern was repeated once we reached sudden death - only in reverse. With 15,000 people baying for a Federer victory like a home football crowd, how they screamed when a pass from Federer gave him the chance to serve for his ninth title here at 8-7 and how they groaned when he passed up those two Championship points - the first with a forehand which drifted into the tramlines, the second with a Serbian cross court winner. The tie-break, when it came, was surprisingly anti-climactic, Djokovic racing into a 4-1 lead which was the death-knell for Federer’s hopes. Half an hour after he so nearly bit the dust, the Serb was once again savouring the taste of success with his usual few blades of Centre Court grass.