LONDON: When Roger Federer last strode off Centre Court as Wimbledon champion it must have seemed impossible to the Swiss great that it would take another three years of frustration and angst before he would reclaim his crown.
Fededer's 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Andy Murray in Sunday's final secured a record-equalling seventh title at the All England Club and returned him to the top of the world rankings after a two-year absence.
Although Federer has become accustomed to Wimbledon glory, the emotion he showed after his victory over Murray suggested this meant much more than just the thrill of increasing his record tally of major titles to 17.
This was a cathartic moment for Federer, who has spent the last three years fending off pointed questions about his supposed decline following a barren run at the Grand Slams stretching back to his 2010 victory at the Australian Open.
However much Federer argued otherwise, for sometime now the feeling has persisted that for a father of two young daughters, tennis was no longer quite so important as when he first unveiled his dazzling talent by shocking Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001.
So reestablising his primacy at Wimbledon was the perfect response to the critics. No wonder he fell to the turf crying tears of joy.
It was a marked contrast to his last Wimbledon triumph against Andy Roddick in 2009.
That success felt like a resumption of normal service for Federer after the previous year's defeat in a five-set classic against Rafael Nadal snapped his remarkable run of five successive Wimbledon titles.
At that point Federer had just completed the rare double of back to back wins at the French Open and Wimbledon and still seemed at the peak of his powers.
Yet the following 36 months would be the toughest period of Federer's career and by the time he arrived in south-west London for his 14th Wimbledon campaign two weeks ago, the 30-year-old was widely regarded as a fading force.
In hindsight, a surprise defeat against Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open highlighted the small cracks in Federer's game that Nadal and Novak Djokovic would exploit so ruthlessly.
After starting 2010 with a victory over Murray to win in Australia, Federer would appear in only one of the next nine Grand Slam finals and even that ended in the familiar sensation of a drubbing by Nadal on the clay at Roland Garros.
With Djokovic enjoying one of the greatest individual seasons in tennis history last year, Federer's ranking slipped to number three and some even began to debate his previously unquestioned right to be regarded as the greatest of all time.
Most baffling of all was his form at Wimbledon, where he suffered successive quarter-final exits in 2010, against Tomas Berdych, and 2011 against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a shocking defeat which marked the first time Federer had lost a two-set lead in a Grand Slam
It was all a far cry from the period when Federer, who fell in love with tennis as a child in Basel, Switzerland, reigned supreme over the sport, spending 285 weeks as world number one over two spells.
Once he conquered a notoriously short temper as a teenager, Federer was able to show off the full extent of his talent.
At times his only competition seemed to be the history books as one success followed another with breathtaking speed.
His breakthrough victory came at Wimbledon in 2003 when he defeated Mark Philippoussis in straight sets.
That opened the floodgates and the following year he hoovered up three of the four majors, defending his Wimbledon title and adding maiden triumphs at the Australian and US Opens.
Federer's golden era saw him win nine of his first 10 Grand Slam finals.
He may never hit those heights again, but on the evidence of Sunday's victory he isn't finished yet.