WIMBLEDON, England -- Roger Federer lost his temper over a line call and misplaced his magical ground strokes for nearly two hours, but he never lost touch with his champion's heart and, in one of the most stirring Grand Slam finals in recent years, defeated archrival Rafael Nadal yesterday to win a record-tying fifth consecutive Wimbledon.
There was joy flowing everywhere on Centre Court as 51-year-old Bjorn Borg, the tennis icon whose mark he matched, came down from the Royal Box at the end of this 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2 epic of fabulous shot-making to present Federer with the winner's trophy.
It was a match that was Nadal's for the taking.
Until he crumbled in the fifth set, he had held serve 22 consecutive times. Nadal, the No. 2 seed, had won virtually all the long rallies with the impatient top-seeded Federer. He had an avalanche of momentum after breaking Federer twice in the fourth set. And he would have four more break points as the two men hit the homestretch.
He could not, however, convert any of them. He could not find a path to victory. Federer could.
It's been said many times about champions. They find a way to win, and that's precisely what happened in this match.
With the most important two shots of this three-hour, 45-minute odyssey, Federer sent an extremely low slice backhand to Nadal, who could only return it with moderate pace deep to Federer's backhand side.
Finding time to set up for a forehand in the left corner, Federer turned sharply on the ball and whipped a clean winner down the sideline for the break that put him up 4-2 in the fifth. After that, it was easy.
"I was almost crying when I was up 5-2 [in the final set], so I had to kind of just stay pretty relaxed," Federer said. "And then, you know, the next game starts love-15. I'm like, 'Oh, my God, this is going too well.' Then, all of a sudden he's got game point and I'm just trying to stay focused.
"But it's hard. So many things go through your mind." On the second match point, Federer told himself: "Let's do it again, play aggressive on the second serve. It paid off, so I was thrilled."
This will be a harrowing loss for Nadal.
"I have big chances in the fifth at 15-40 [twice]," said Nadal, who played Federer to a draw from the baseline. "Maybe if we have to find any difference, the difference is the serve."
Amen to that. It was Federer's serve that pulled him through this extremely difficult ordeal. He had started quickly, putting on a fireworks display of magnificence. Stinging forehands, whiplash backhands and brilliant anticipation around the net with his volleys.
But as the match moved deep into the second set and Nadal began to dominate with his serve, there were no longer any classic Federer ground strokes.
He couldn't get to deuce on Nadal's serve and, serving at 4-5 in the second set, Nadal hit a spectacular forehand winner from the seat of his white pirate pants and two points later won the set with a vicious backhand pass.
Even as Federer won the third-set tiebreak, there was a sense that Nadal was still nose to nose with him, and he broke Federer to start the fourth as the reigning champion struggled to relocate his game.
By now, Federer was becoming agitated with his play and, when Nadal won a Hawk-Eye challenge in the third game, he approached chair umpire Carlos Ramos to tell him he absolutely saw the ball out and wanted Hawk-Eye turned off.
"That thing is killing me," Federer was overheard to say on the TV broadcast, and he prefaced that remark with a four-letter vulgarity .
"I was shocked of course that it was inside [on the Hawk-Eye animated replay]. But it doesn't matter what I think anymore. It's in place. It's the way it is," Federer said later.
And so he wins his 11th Grand Slam and second of the year to go with the Australian Open, placing him just three behind all-time men's leader Pete Sampras, who won seven Wimbledons but never more than four in a row.
When the jubilation of this historic win wears down, Federer will have to come to grips with the reality that Nadal has closed the gap on him. He's not just the better player on clay, but now tenuously close to Federer on grass. It's a great rivalry and it's great for men's tennis.
"I win my share. He wins his," Federer said. "We've been at the top for over a hundred weeks together. Sometimes we haven't lived up to the expectations of the past. But you can't always play five-set thrillers, you know."
Still, Federer added, "I'm happy it happened today. I left the winner. Was perfect."
Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.