Victory over Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final brought Novak Djokovic level with his opponent in career meetings at 20 wins apiece. After a triumph that earned the Serb a third title at the All England Club and a ninth major in all, that may seem merely a statistical footnote. But for Djokovic, it gestures towards the wider truth that he is finally beginning to make up ground on Federer, if not in the affections of the public then certainly in the grand sweep of sporting history. (Djokovic Wins Third Wimbledon Title| Love and Marriage Key to Djokovic's Success)
Defeat to the Swiss maestro, which looked an even-money bet when an inspired Federer sent the Centre Court crowd into delirium by staving off six set points to win the second-set tie-break, would have reinforced the impression of Djokovic as a man playing third fiddle in a symphony of unprecedented excellence. But while he remains short of both Federer and Rafael Nadal in terms of majors won - his two biggest rivals have 17 and 14 respectively - he is now in a class of his own on nine. (Steel-Plated Djokovic a Step too Far for Federer)
"He's marching through history right now and we're watching it," said the former world No1 Andy Roddick after a win that lifted Djokovic one slam clear of Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Ken Rosewall and Fred Perry. (Third Title Feels as Sweet as First: Djokovic)
How different that picture might have looked had Djokovic foundered, as he had done in six of his previous nine major finals heading into the match. Then the talk would have turned to a man suffering a crisis of confidence after his recent defeat to Stan Wawrinka in the final of the French Open, the only grand slam Djokovic has yet to win. The Serb would have faced accusations not only of a failure of nerve on the game's biggest stages but also of complacency, following his decision not to play a warm-up event on grass for the second year running. (Federer Magnanimous After Defeat by Djokovic)
Instead, Djokovic confirmed that this is his time. This year has seen him at his most dominant since 2011, when he marked his emergence as a genuine rival to Federer and Nadal by winning in Melbourne, London and New York. Until now, he has struggled to match that high-water mark, failing to win more than one major a year. But victory in SW19 suggests that - like Federer and Nadal, who marked their best years by claiming at least two slams a season - Djokovic is ready to dominate the sport in earnest.
Certainly his comments to the press after his 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory spoke of a man with history on his mind. "I'm very proud with all the success that I've had so far in my career," said Djokovic. "If you had said to me as a 14-year-old back in Serbia, trying to find my way, that this was how I was going to end up at 28, of course I would have signed the deal and taken it right away.
"There were a couple of grand slam finals that I think I could have won, but having said that everything happens for a reason. I try to learn from every experience, especially the ones that don't end up victorious for me. I'm going to keep going. I'm 28, I feel good, I don't feel old, I have hopefully many more years in front of me. I'm going to try to push my own limits and see how far I can go."
Whether it will be enough to take him beyond his two great rivals remains to be seen. Federer may have thrown down the gauntlet for good with his seventh Wimbledon title three years ago, but Nadal will surely come again after a season spent labouring unsuccessfully to rediscover his best form. For now, though, Djokovic will train his sights on the US Open, where victory would draw him level with Bill Tilden, the great American champion of the 1920s, on 10 majors. Only a fool would bet against him.