"No. 7, No. 17, No. 1."
That was Roger Federer's succinct and symmetrical summary of what was at stake for him going into the Wimbledon final, and as he collapsed on court after match point, it was almost as if a huge weight had been removed.
"Honestly, this one hasn't quite sunk in yet for some reason," he told reporters afterward. "I guess I was trying to be so focused in the moment itself that when it all happened I was just so happy, you know, that it was all over and that the pressure was gone basically."
Disbelief and relief -- it echoed the words of Serena Williams a day earlier.
After lingering doubts and some close misses, both 30-year-olds returned to the Grand Slam winners' circle for the first time since 2010, and attended the Wimbledon Champions Ball on Sunday night as joint champions for the first time since they last won together in 2009.
Is it a return of the old order, and for how long?
Too soon to tell, but after waiting nearly two and a half years since winning his last Grand Slam, Federer just wanted to savor the moment. He arrived on site early the next day, wearing a blue checked shirt and vintage-style sneakers, but most noticeably, that post-Grand Slam victory beam, which has not been seen in a while.
"This one has a very unique place in my heart," he told a small group of reporters while making the media rounds that morning. "Because many reasons … but maybe also the bit longer wait has also created this as a more fairytale tournament for me, potentially."
Some of the reasons were, of course, the numbers Federer had reeled off earlier. This was his seventh Wimbledon title, trying him for most all time with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw, who won seven back in the days of the challenge round, when the defending champion only had to play one match. It also extended his record Grand Slam tally to 17, creating further distance with Sampras' previous record of 14 Slams.
And it also put him back at No. 1, which is not only significant because the ascendancy of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had seemed to spell the end of his occupation of the top spot, but also because it allows him to tie and eventually break Sampras' record of 286 weeks at No. 1.
"This is obviously huge in terms of everything that was on the line," Federer said, but added, "You know, I don't only play for the record books."
A big reason was being able to reward the continuing belief and support of his team, family and followers. Another was being able to share the moment with his twin daughters, who are nearly 3 years old and were in the players' box for the ceremony. Not that they were overly impressed by the proceedings, Federer reported.
"I saw them this morning and, yeah, they're playing games," he said, relating the conversation with even more delight than when he was describing his win. "I was like, 'Do you remember yesterday?' One's like 'No, I don't.' I'm like, 'OK, OK.' Then the other one's like 'Yeah, yeah … I remember clapping.' So honestly, I'm not sure what they do remember."
But for Federer and his wife, Mirka, it was something they won't forget. "It's just a very much a great moment for my wife, and for our kids one day hopefully, and for myself to have had that experience," he said. "When I won in 2003, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would win Wimbledon and have my kids seeing me lift the trophy, so this is pretty surreal. And yeah, I was almost shocked in the moment that it all came together so nicely."
Despite the significance of the occasion, Federer was not as emotional on court after the match as he has been during some of his other victories. That role belonged to Andy Murray, who choked up as the crowd sympathetically received the player who had been trying to win the first men's Grand Slam singles title for Britain in 76 years, but instead suffered his fourth defeat in a major final.
"Look, it's hard to go overly crazy out on the court yesterday because of the situation with Andy. There's so much pressure on both of us that it was always going to end in tears," said Federer.
As usual during these interviews, a crowd of newspapers had been spread across the table, featuring photos and headlines about the previous day. For once, however, the pages did not focus on Federer's victory but Murray's reaction in defeat.
Federer does not believe that this result will change the on-court competitiveness among the big four, but de does believe his return to No. 1 may have a practical impact.
"I just think it changes the dynamics now," he said. "Now all of a sudden we'll see, I guess, different semifinalists -- it's going to be harder for Novak and Rafa to find themselves in the finals every single time because they might face each other now in the semis. Is that going to have a big impact? I don't know.
"I definitely believe Murray's part of that elite group [at the top], and with this final from Andy here as well, I hope he sees it in a positive way -- that he's already done the finals, now let's go a step further. I think that's going to make the dynamics quite interesting as well."
Federer feels other results at this Wimbledon, like Nadal being upset by Lukas Rosol, may also have an effect.
"I think with a victory like by Rosol, for instance, or maybe by Ernests Gulbis beating a Tomas Berdych, I think that's going to fuel the rest of the top 10 players and the rest of the top 100," he said. "Believing they can upset the top players more often, which I hope is going to happen as well -- that they do maybe bring more belief to the table against more of the top players."
The return of an old name may begin a new stage in the men's game.