NOVAK Djokovic sent out a warning to Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal last night that he has them in his sights – after moving another step closer to his two historic rivals in the sport’s all-time lists by claiming his 16th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.

The 32-year-old told himself the Centre Court crowd were chanting for him and not roaring their support for the Swiss legend as he overturned two championship points to claim his fifth Wimbledon singles title in a match which went right down to the first ever 12-12 tie-break in All England Club singles history.

The 37-year-old Swiss would have become the oldest winner in the history of the men’s singles in South West London had he claimed his ninth title here – a prospect which looked likely indeed when he had two points for it on his own serve at 8-7 in an epic final set.

Instead, after a Federer forehand which drifted wide and a cross court pass from Djokovic, it was the Serb who had silenced the crowd and was holding the trophy aloft after a 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) win which will live long in the memory. He now stands just four major titles behind the Serb, and two behind the Spaniard.

"Those two guys are probably one of the biggest reasons I still compete at this level,” said Djokovic, who has now won four major titles since Federer’s last win at the 2018 Australian Open. “The fact that they made history of this sport motivates me as well, it inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they've achieved, and even more. Whether I'm going to be able to do it or not, I don't know. But I'm not really looking at age as a restriction of any kind for me at least.”

Djokovic admitted it had taken mind over matter for him to avoid losing focus when the majority of a raucous crowd were baying for what would have been an immensely popular Federer win. “I mean, it's hard to not be aware,” said the Serb. “You have that kind of electric atmosphere, that kind of noise, especially in some decisive moments where we're quite even. It's one way or another. The crowd gets into it.

“Of course, if you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps, it gives you motivation, it gives you strength, it gives you energy. When you don't, then you have to find it within, I guess. At times you just try to ignore it, which is quite hard. So I like to trans-mutate it in a way: when the crowd is chanting 'Roger' I hear 'Novak'. It sounds silly, but I try to convince myself that it's like that.”

Federer, who won 14 more points in the course of the match only to lose a hat-trick of tie-breaks, admitted he was “one shot” away from victory. While it goes down as a “huge opportunity missed”, he insisted the finally tally on the number of Grand Slams really wasn’t his be all and end all in life. Much like his defeat to Nadal in the 2008 final here, there may be some solace to be found in taking part in such an epic match.

“It is one shot, I guess,” said Federer. “I don’t know which one to pick. I don't know if losing 2-2-2 feels better than this one. At the end, it actually doesn't matter to some extent. You might feel more disappointed, sad, over-angry. I don't know what I feel right now. I just feel like it's such an incredible opportunity missed, I can't believe it.

“It [whether he was the better player having won more points] really doesn't matter actually,” he added. “I know what I did well, how close I was. I don't need to feel that way. Similar to '08 maybe, I will look back at it and think ‘well, it's not that bad after all. But for now it hurts, and it should, like every loss does here at Wimbledon.

“It [winning more Grand Slams than the rest] used to be a really, really big deal, you know, I guess when you were close,” said Federer. “Two behind, then eventually you tie, then eventually you break. That was big. It's been different since, naturally because the chase is in a different place.

"But I take motivation from different places, you know," he added. "Not so much from trying to stay ahead because I broke the record, and if somebody else does, well, that's great for them. You can't protect everything anyway.

“I didn't become a tennis player for that. I really didn't. It's about trying to win Wimbledon, trying to have good runs here, playing in front of such an amazing crowd in this Centre Court against players like Novak and so forth. That's what I play for.”

While it could be argued that the newly-introduced rule for final set tie-breakers didn’t help his cause yesterday, Federer refused to use that as an excuse. “It is what it is,” said the 37-year-old. “I respect whatever the rule is. I don't know if I was looking forward to it or not. I was feeling good about either scenario.”