LONDON — Roger Federer was a match away from fulfilling his mission of winning a record eighth Wimbledon title.
Once again, he ran into a seemingly invincible Novak Djokovic.
Federer had been in excellent form throughout this year's tournament, and he continued to show it in Sunday's final. He took an early lead in the first set, he came back to win an epic 22-point tiebreaker in the second set, and he matched Djokovic all afternoon with sizzling forehands and slick backhands on the grass of Centre Court.
Still, No. 8 remains elusive.
"For me, a finalist trophy is not the same. Everybody knows that," Federer said after his 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 loss. "Thankfully I've won here in the past, so it does not feel like I'm chasing anything."
Federer has already made history on the tennis courts, several times. His 17 major titles are the most any man has ever won, and his seven championships at Wimbledon put him even with Pete Sampras and 1880s player William Renshaw at the top of the list.
It'll take another 52 weeks to get another shot at that record.
"That's why this defeat hurts more," the 33-year-old Federer said. "You know you have to wait another year and win six matches. It's a long way off."
Heading into the final, Federer had been superb. Through six matches at the All England Club, including a straight-set victory over Andy Murray in the semifinals, Federer's serve had been broken only once.
And despite the break in the first set against Djokovic that erased his early lead, Federer was looking stellar again through two sets.
"He played amazing tennis throughout the entire tournament. He deserved to be there," said Djokovic, who beat Federer in five sets in last year's final. "I knew that he's not going to drop his level too much. He's going to make me earn every point.
"He's not going to lose, I'm going to have to win if I want to lift that trophy."
Djokovic did what he needed to in the third set, breaking Federer in the third game after saving a break point in the previous game. And then, with Djokovic up a break and leading 3-2, the rain came and the match was briefly suspended.
The roof, however, stayed open when play resumed. In 2012, Federer and Murray were playing a tight match in the final until the roof was closed. That's when Federer completely took over and won his seventh title.
Not this time.
"I think maybe the rain came at a bad time for me. Maybe if it came earlier or much later, it would have been better," Federer said. "The way it was, I couldn't take advantage of it, even though I had a (15-30) game shortly after I came back."
In the fourth set, Djokovic again played better on the big points, breaking Federer twice for the win and his third Wimbledon title.
"It would have been nicer to win some than to lose some," Federer said. "At the same time, I lost against the world No. 1 at the moment. That's the kind of guy you probably can lose against."