WIMBLEDON, England: A year ago, Roger Federer left Centre Court a broken man after losing an epic five-set final, his Wimbledon title ripped away and his aura of invincibility shattered.
On Sunday, after another five-set marathon, Federer walked off as the holder of the most prestigious record in tennis, with the winner's trophy and No. 1 ranking back in his grasp and his reputation enhanced as arguably the greatest player of all time.
Federer won his record 15th Grand Slam title, outlasting Andy Roddick for his sixth Wimbledon championship in match that went to 30 games in the final set.
Federer served a career high 50 aces and overcame the resilient American 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 to break the record of major titles he shared with Pete Sampras.
"I'm happy I broke the record here because this is always the tournament that meant the most to me," Federer said. "It definitely feels like coming full circle, starting it here and ending it here."
The match finally ended after 4 hours, 16 minutes of play when Federer broke for the first time all day, with Roddick missing badly with a forehand.
Federer jumped high in celebration, punched the air and whacked the net with his racket. Roddick tossed his racket to the side and the two men shared a hug at the net. Federer held up the trophy, kissed it and held it close to his chest.
Watching from the front row of the Royal Box was Sampras, a seven-time Wimbledon champion who flew in from California to see history made in his first appearance at the All England Club since playing here for the last time in 2002. Also on hand were Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver.
"It's not really one of those goals you set as a little boy, but man, it's been quite a career and quite a month," said Federer, who saved four set points in the second-set tiebreaker to avoid falling behind 2-0 in sets. "It feels amazing, but this is not why I'm playing tennis to break all sort of different records. But it's definitely one of the greatest ones to have."
Turning to Sampras, Federer said: "Thanks very much for coming. I know it's a long way, but you're a member, man, we like to see you here. It's such a pleasure to play in front of such greats legends."
Roddick said: "Sorry Pete, I tried to hold him off."
The historic impact of the match hit home when Sampras arrived after the third game of the first set. Accompanied by his wife, Bridgette Wilson, he sat next to Spanish great Manolo Santana and a few seats from Laver and Borg. He wore sunglasses, a gray suit and light blue shirt and tie.
"In a way I still feel like we share (the record) because he was such a wonderful champion," Federer said of Sampras. "He still has one up against me here at Wimbledon. It's nice that he shows appreciation for what I'm doing."
Federer is third player in history to win six Wimbledon championships -- Sampras and William Renshaw each won seven.
Sampras considers Federer the greatest ever.
"I have to give it to him," he said. "The critics say Laver, and (Rafael) Nadal has beaten him a few times at majors. He's won all the majors, he's won 15 now, he's going to win a few more here. So in my book he is."
"He's a stud," Sampras added. "He's only 27. He'll contend here for many years, and the US Open, and all the majors. If he just keeps it going and stays healthy, he could go to 18, 19, potentially.The guy, he's a legend. Now he's an icon."
Federer reclaimed the No. 1 ranking he lost last year to Nadal, the Spaniard who beat him in the epic 2008 final that finished in near darkness at 9-7 in the fifth but missed this year's tournament because of knee problems.
"I'm aware that Rafa didn't play here," Federer said. "Injuries are part of the game, unfortunately, but I'm happy I became No. 1 in the world by winning this title because this is the biggest one there is out there. I love playing here."
It was the longest men's Grand Slam final in history at 77 games -- breaking the previous record of 71 from 1927 in Australia. It was also the longest fifth set in a men's Grand Slam final in history, surpassing the 20 games from 1927 in France.
The 30-game final set could have encompassed several sets of play. Federer's straight-set victories in the first and second rounds were each shorter in total number of games than Sunday's decisive set.
The fifth set went back-and-forth with the players slugging huge serves at each other, offering few chances to break. Roddick saved one break point in the second game, and Federer erased two at 8-8 when he came up with two big serves when 15-40 down.
"I was just trying to survive each time and hold serve and give myself a shot," Roddick said. "It didn't work out, but I definitely gave myself a look."
Finally, in the 30th game, serving with Federer ahead 15-14, Roddick blinked. On the second deuce, he mis-hit a forehand to give Federer a chance to secure his place in history. On match point, after a contest featuring so many aces, winners and brilliant shots, Roddick shanked a forehand.
Until then, Federer had been 0-6 on break points.
The statistics were eye-catching: Federer's 50 aces were one short of the Wimbledon record held by Ivo Karlovic. Federer had an incredible total of 107 winners, compared with 38 unforced errors. Roddick had 27 aces, 74 winners and 33 unforced mistakes.
Some people were writing off Federer after he lost to Nadal in the Australian Open final and broke down in tears in the trophy ceremony. Federer continued to struggle early in the season before winning the French Open for the first time to complete a career Grand Slam.
On Sunday, Federer became the third man in 40 years to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year, joining Borg and Nadal.
"This year is crazy," Federer said. "Things didn't look so good when I lost in the final of the Australian Open, which was still just an unbelievable result. But to come through and battle back and win Paris and now Wimbledon back-to-back, something Bjorn did a couple of times, it's amazing."
Playing in his record 20th Grand Slam final and sixth in a row overall, Federer beat Roddick for the third time in the Wimbledon championship match, adding to his victories in 2004 and '05. He extended his overall mastery over the American to 19-2, including 8-0 at Grand Slams.
Federer had the first break chance at 5-5 in the first set, but Roddick bore down and saved four break points in a game that went to deuce five times. Roddick then broke in the next game to take the set, closing with a deep backhand that forced a forehand error by Federer.
The second set went on serve until the tiebreaker, which Roddick let slip from his grasp after going up 6-2. Federer saved four set points -- with Roddick missing a relatively easy high backhand volley on the fourth -- and won six straight overall to even the match.
Roddick saved another break point in the sixth game of the third set with an ace, and both players held easily the rest of the way to force a second tiebreaker. Federer held three set points at 6-3. Roddick saved the first two but Federer took the third by moving forward on a short ball to put away a forehand winner.
At that stage, Federer might have been expected to ride the momentum and sweep to victory in the fourth. Yet Roddick broke him for the second time in the fourth game, bending low for a sliced shot and hitting a backhand pass that Federer couldn't handle. At 5-2, Roddick fell awkwardly on the baseline with his right leg slipping out from under him. But he shook it off and served out the set to send the match to the fifth.