No storybook ending for Federer
THERE was a telltale moment early in the second set of the men's Wimbledon final when Novak Djokovic, trailing in a match he appeared to be dominating and in disbelief at a net-cord winner by Roger Federer, looked to the sky for mercy.
Heaven was not listening. Earth, too, was not sympathetic. With the exception of those in his box and a few scattered souls around Centre Court, seemingly everyone had cast Djokovic as the valiant supporting actor - if not an actual villain - in what was supposed to be the Hollywood ending to Wimbledon 2014.
Not a vocational ending for Federer, mind you, who made sure to tell the crowd, "See you next year", before walking off a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 loser to Djokovic in a tense 3hr 56min match.
Had he won, with his 33rd birthday a month away, Federer would have become the oldest Wimbledon champion of the Open era.
Had he done it after trailing by 5-2 in the fourth set and facing match point, it would have been - beyond the bookend Grand Slam trophy to define the twilight of his career - the stuff of legend.
Federer was born on the eighth day of the eighth month in 1981, just more evidence for the tennis world - and Djokovic, as he appeared to battle fate along with Federer - to believe that the great Swiss champion would ultimately win his record eighth Wimbledon and, yes, his 18th career Grand Slam title.
Djokovic is not an unlikable guy - like Federer, he has had his share of Grand Slam hardship in recent years, losing five of his previous six finals.
Against Federer, that was not going to be enough to earn him much more than the polite Centre Court decorum, especially with Federer's four-year-old twin daughters, Myla and Charlene, watching with his wife, Mirka, and mother, Lynette.
Federer's family is royalty at Wimbledon, where he won the junior boys' title in 1998. Think about that. In a sport that can burn people out faster than Wall Street, here was Federer, 16 years later, a stroke here or there away from doing it again.
After allowing Federer to stagger into a first-set tiebreaker and managing to lose it, Djokovic righted himself in the second and third sets and for much of the fourth. He was destroying Federer with his service games, winning most of them at love or 15.
Then suddenly, as if he had just flipped a switch, Federer was spraying winners all over against Djokovic's serve, enjoying break-fest at Wimbledon three times in the fourth set, and winning five straight games to even the match and send Djokovic off to a bathroom timeout to ponder the awful possibilities.
But then he put a step-back overhead into the net at 15-all in the ninth game. Djokovic served it out, broke Federer at 15 and was soon heaving with emotion as he held onto the trophy.
In a departure from past painful losses, Federer shed no tears. Instead, he said: "It's even more memorable when I see my kids there with my wife and everything. That's what touched me the most, to be quite honest. The disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly."
Federer is a long way from his junior title. He is a private man with a public life who wants it to be only about the tennis.
Is he playing on in pursuit of a storybook ending?
If he is, it is probably with the understanding that it may never actually happen, and that there is nevertheless a whole lot more to life.