Murray loses final but wins British hearts
We came to Centre Court expecting history to be made. It was Roger Federer rather than Andy Murray who once again ripped apart the record books, and few who witnessed it will believe it should have been any different.
Murray's brave defeat in the first Wimbledon singles final to feature a British male in 74 years - his fourth painful loss in four Grand Slam finals - came down not to fate or bad luck nor any stage-fright on his behalf.
Federer's win in four sets was instead founded on that most simple logic: the best player playing the better tennis for longer will always ultimately prevail.
Considered a spent force by some when he crashed out of the last two championships here in the quarter-finals, Federer's seventh Wimbledon crown - and 17th Grand Slam title overall - was won by a combination of conjuror's flair and brilliant, brutal hitting that very few players in the history of the game could match.
Murray, having had four break points for a two-set lead and a shot at sporting immortality, will be haunted by this one for a while. He has never been this close to an elusive major, never played so well early on in a match of this magnitude.
At the end he was bereft, reduced to tears by the realisation that it had all once again slipped away. But while it will be of little comfort to him now, in that moment another rather different battle might finally have been won.
Murray has never completely been taken to heart by the entire British sporting public. All fortnight we heard complaints that he was too taciturn, too muted on court, too short of the charisma and grace that have made Federer the most popular player of his generation.
There are some very simple answers to that: it is none of our business how much of himself he wants the world to see, or how often he smiles when that world is watching.
He is a professional tennis player, aiming simply to win as many matches and majors as he can, and doing a rather better job of it than any other Briton has in recent memory or will do for an age.
When the tears came, however, and the post-match words choked in his throat with half the country watching or listening at home, the young man was at last visible behind the sportsman's tough exterior.
Here he was, revealed in a way few expected: emotional, apologetic, engaging and open for all to see.
It is not the first time Murray has shed tears on court. His five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic at this year's Australian Open ended the same way.
The difference this time was the reaction from the crowd inside Centre Court - sustained applause, collectively placing an empathetic arm around the shoulder - and from those watching at home who had previously never thawed to the Scot's angular charms.
"I never thought the old boy had it in him," as one chastened spectator said wonderingly courtside.
Murray's old coach and friend Miles Maclagan was there as part of BBC 5 live's commentary team. "Andy has almost resisted being liked," he said afterwards. "He has wanted to be liked for winning titles, not for who he is."
After this Wimbledon it may no longer be an either/or, just as Federer is so widely loved for both his unmatched deeds on the court and the way he has done it all.
Early in Sunday's final the wonderfully optimistic thoughts that had sprung from the semi-final defeat of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga seemed gloriously close to becoming reality.
Murray broke Federer in his very first service game and went on to take the set as the old master showed uncharacteristic nerves, shipping 16 unforced errors to his apprentice's five. When Murray had two break points at 4-4 in the second a nation puffed out its cheeks and started to wonder.
But Federer, victorious here in six of his seven previous final appearances, does not wilt so easily. He broke Murray from nowhere to steal away the second set 7-5 and then, with the Briton's first serve dipping below 50% in the critical third, purred through the gears to reach a level that few other players in history have ever touched.
By the end he had hit 62 winners, more than any other player had managed in any other match at this Wimbledon.
For Federer, three long years on from his last SW19 title, this victory was more than just another sparkling campaign medal to pin alongside all the others.
A month short of his 31st birthday he was supposed to be in his tennis dotage, a much-loved figure who could no longer quite cut it in a thrusting world of dashing young blades like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Men don't win Wimbledon singles titles in their 30s. Only Rod Laver and Arthur Ashe have ever managed to do so, and then only once apiece.
Instead, Federer has not only drawn level with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw on the all-time Wimbledon men's singles champions list, but will next week go back to number one in the ATP world rankings.
Dotage? By mid-July Federer will have held top-billing for longer in total than any other player in history. Even for this extraordinary player, it is an extraordinary achievement.