WIMBLEDON, England - With darkness enveloping Centre Court and the clock showing 9:15 p.m., Rafael Nadal watched as Roger Federer's errant forehand settled into the net, ending what might have been the greatest men's final on the greatest stage in tennis.
With that, Nadal flopped onto his back on the worn-out lawn as champion of Wimbledon for the first time and conqueror of the five-time winner and grass-court master.
After five riveting sets and 4 hours, 48 minutes of play, there was a changing of the guard at Wimbledon on Sunday when Nadal held off Federer's stirring comeback to win 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7.
'It's impossible to explain what I felt in that moment,' Nadal said after receiving the winner's trophy from the Duke of Kent. 'Just very, very happy to win this title. For me, (it) is a dream to play in this tournament. But to win, I never imagined something like this.'
Nadal, winner of four straight French Open championships, is no longer just the King of Clay.
He's the first Spanish man to win at the All England Club since Manolo Santana in 1966 and, more significantly, the first player to sweep the French Open and Wimbledon men's titles in the same year since Bjorn Borg in 1980.
Federer, who converted only one of 13 break points but saved two match points in the fourth set tiebreaker, fell short in his bid to set two landmarks: He failed to surpass Borg by winning a sixth consecutive title or equal Willie Renshaw's record of six in a row from 1881-86.
Both Borg and Santana were in the Royal Box for the occasion, the longest singles final in Wimbledon history and one that many rated as an epic for the ages.
'This is the greatest match I've ever seen,' said John McEnroe, a three-time Wimbledon champion and a television commentator at the tournament.
Nadal, who snapped Federer's Wimbledon winning streak at 40 matches and overall grass-court run at 65, climbed into the players' guest box to embrace his entourage. He grabbed a Spanish flag and walked across the television commentators' booth to the edge of the Royal Box to shake hands with Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain.
Was this Nadal's greatest match?
'Probably the best, yes,' said the 22-year-old Spaniard from Mallorca. 'When I won for the first time the French Open (it) was unbelievable, too. I don't want to compare Grand Slams, but Wimbledon is special for everybody. Tradition, everything. For me, it's more surprise to win here than the French.'
As for Federer, he called it 'probably my hardest loss, by far.'
Federer said he thought the match, which started late due to rain and was interrupted twice by showers, should have been suspended and carried over to Monday because of the fading light.
'It's rough on me now, obviously, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light,' he said.
Nadal, too, wasn't sure the match could go on any longer.
'In the last game, I didn't see nothing, it's true,' he said. 'It was unbelievable. I thought we have to stop. If I lose that game, we have to stop.'
Nadal won his fifth Grand Slam title, adding to his four consecutive French Open championships. Federer, meanwhile, remains two shy of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam wins.
'He's still No. 1,' Nadal said. 'He's still the best. He's still five-time champion here and I only have one, so for me it is very, very important.'
Nadal, who has won 24 straight matches, extended his career record against Federer to 12-6, but it was only his third win in six against him on a surface other than clay. Nadal had lost in the last two Wimbledon finals to Federer.
Sunday's victory was Nadal's second straight over Federer in a Grand Slam final - and this time on the champion's favorite court and surface. Nadal crushed Federer in last month's French Open final, losing only four games.
As Nadal and Federer battled through the fifth set in the fading light, they were like two heavyweight prize fighters going toe-to-toe in the late rounds of a title fight. The overall intensity and quality of the match recalled the 1980 final between Borg and McEnroe, which the Swede won in the fifth set after losing an 18-16 tiebreaker.
Federer had mixed feelings about being part of a classic.
'It's sort of always nice to be part of them,' he said. 'Probably later in life, I'll go, 'That was a great match.' But right now, it's not much of a feel-good thing. It's not up to us to judge if it was the best ever.'
Federer lost despite serving 25 aces and smacking 89 winners, 29 more than Nadal. But he was more erratic than his opponent, committing 52 unforced errors, compared to 27 for Nadal.
Federer came close to becoming the first player to overcome a two-set deficit in a Wimbledon men's final since 1927, when Henri Cochet beat Jean Borotra.
The fourth-set tiebreaker featured brilliant winners by both players, sudden changes of momentum - and two missed match points for Nadal.
The Spaniard was serving at 5-2 in the tiebreaker, two points from victory, when he let Federer off the hook with a double-fault and a backhand error. After saving a set point at 6-5, Nadal earned match points at 7-6 and 8-7 but couldn't convert. Federer erased the first with a 127 mph service winner and the second with a backhand pass down the line.
'I was hoping with the momentum going into the fifth set, that it was going to be enough, that I would play a little bit better,' Federer said. 'But I couldn't play my best when I really had to.'