Novak Djokovic overcame some jitters as he beat Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 in the Wimbledon final on Sunday to claim a record-equalling 20th title at the majors.
The Serb now remain on course for an ultra-rare calendar year grand slam.
World number one Djokovic blew a 5-2 lead and a set-point as he lost the opening set, and flirted with similar disaster in the second.
But he eventually prevailed on third match-point after three hours 24 minutes over ninth-ranked Berrettini, who was the first Italian player in the London final.
Djokovic, 34, sunk to the ground in delight as he drew level with long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 titles at the majors.
He can fulfil his long dream by surpassing them at the US Open later this year.
A success in New York would make him first man in 52 years to achieve a calendar year grand slam, and the third overall.
This is following American Donald Budge in 1938 and Australia’s Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969.
He is the first since Laver to win the first three slams of a year after his earlier 2021 success at the Australian and French Opens.
A Golden Slam is also possible for Djokovic if he adds Olympic gold in Tokyo, a feat only achieved once, on the women’s side, by German Steffi Graf in 1988.
“I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger. They are legends of our sport. The two most important players I ever faced,” Djokovic said on court after receiving the trophy, adding with a smile: “It means none of us three will stop.
“They are the reason I am where I am today. They made me realise what I had to do to improve. The last 10 years has been an incredible journey and it is not stopping here.”
Looking at the possible grand slam, he said: “I can definitely envisage that happening.
“I’m going to give it a shot. I’m playing well and playing my best tennis at grand slams is my priority.”
Federer was among the first to respond, saying: “Congrats Novak on your 20th major. I’m proud to have the opportunity to play in a special era of tennis champions. Wonderful performance, well done!”
Djokovic appeared aware of what was at stake when he started with a double-fault.
He had two more in his first service games where he also needed to fend off a break-point under the eyes of Croatia’s Marija Cicak.
She was the first female umpire of the men’s final.
Recent Queen’s winner Berrettini was however the first to crumble in his maiden final at the majors, hitting some extraordinary errors as Djokovic went 5-2 up.
But the Italian resurged and also started winning longer rallies, saving a set-point in his comeback to 5-5 and the tie-break where he wrapped up the set with an ace.
Djokovic was undeterred as he raced into a 5-1 lead in the second set —— only to incredibly falter again as Berrettini came back strongly to 5-4.
The 25-year-old saved three set-points and won an extraordinary rally when he answered a brilliant Djokovic lob with a “tweener” shot between his legs which the Serb then netted with a no-look shot.
The crowd was on its feet but there was no repeat of the opening set as Djokovic served out the set at love.
In the third, Djokovic seemed annoyed by the fans’ “Matteo” chants but went 2-1 sets up on a forehand error from Berrettini.
That was after a third-game break from Berrettini’s netted drop shot and backhand.
And when the brave Italian double-faulted to hand Djokovic a break for 4-3, the affair was settled.
Djokovic won the last four games to enter the history books after “more than a battle” with what also was his fourth title of the year and 85th overall.
At the majors he now has nine Australian Opens, two French Opens, six Wimbledons, including the last three, and three US Opens.
Italian hopes of big sporting success in London meanwhile then shifted to Wembley where Italy were facing England in the Euro 2020 final later on Sunday.
“For sure Novak was better than me, he’s a great champion. He’s writing the history of this sport so he deserves all the credit,” Berrettini said.
“I am happy with my final, hopefully not my last one here and at the grand slams. I had a good run here and in Queens. I hope this is just the beginning of a great career.” (dpa/NAN)