Novak Djokovic savoured his finest hour as he fought off a courageous Roger Federer and his own inner demons to win a second Wimbledon title.
The 27-year-old was the better player virtually throughout but was broken serving for the match in the fourth set and then saw a match point slip away as Federer, seeking a record eighth title, somehow pushed it to a decider.
Djokovic had lost five of his previous six grand slam finals, including his defeat to Andy Murray here last year, and was staring at the most damaging loss of them all but he kept believing and emerged a 6-7 (7/9) 6-4 7-6 (7/4) 5-7 6-4 winner.
The emotion quickly overwhelmed the Serbian, who crouched tearfully on the turf before climbing up to celebrate with his camp, including Boris Becker, for whom this was a first slam title as Djokovic's coach.
Djokovic then dedicated the victory to his fiancee Jelena Ristic, who is expecting their first child, his family and his childhood coach Jelena Gencic, who died last year.
"It's the most special grand slam final I've played," said the Serbian, who is now tied with John McEnroe on seven slam titles.
"At the time of my career for this grand slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several grand slam finals in a row. I started doubting of course a little bit.
"I needed this win a lot. I'm going to try to use it in the best possible way and for my confidence to grow for the rest of my season and the rest of my career."
Djokovic, who will overtake Rafael Nadal as world number one on Monday, also rated the match as the best of the 14 grand slam finals he has played in, ahead of his epic 2012 victory over the Spaniard at the Australian Open.
The Serbian admitted it was tough to lose the fourth set but said: " I didn't allow my emotions to fade away, as was probably the case in the Roland Garros final four weeks ago.
"I could have easily lost my concentration in the fifth and just handed him the win. But I didn't, and that's why this win has a special importance to me mentally.
"I managed to not just win against my opponent but win against myself as well and find that inner strength that got me the trophy."
When Djokovic won his first Wimbledon title by beating Nadal three years ago, he celebrated with a nibble of the Centre Court grass.
He did the same again today, saying with a laugh: " I had a nice bite. I thought that there was less grass today than there was a few years ago, so I had a little bit of a soil as well.
"But nevertheless, it tastes like the best meal that I ever had in my life."
Djokovic can now step away from tennis to prepare for his forthcoming wedding to his long-time partner Ristic with a weight lifted from his shoulders.
"I think I can close the chapter of my tennis career just for little bit now," he added. "I think I deserve that for few weeks to rest, to enjoy, be with my fiancee and my family."
After seeing the first set slip through his fingers, Djokovic deservedly won the next two but t he match will be remembered best for an incredible fourth set in which Federer simply refused to accept defeat.
From 5-2 down, the Swiss held serve, broke Djokovic, saved a match point with an ace on a Hawk-Eye challenge, broke serve again and served out a fifth successive game to level the match.
The pressure of what might have been must have been weighing on Djokovic and, with a break point in the seventh game, Federer looked to be closing in on victory.
But he netted a backhand and again the momentum switched, Federer forced to save three break points, the final one with an amazing half-volley off his toes.
The pressure was growing again though, and this time, finally, Federer could withstand it no more, the 32-year-old netting the decisive backhand after three hours and 57 minutes.
"I just kept going," said Federer. "I couldn't figure out why I wasn't breaking Novak's serve or actually creating opportunities.
"Novak deserved it at the end clearly, but it was extremely close."
It was Federer's first grand slam final since beating Murray to win Wimbledon two years ago, and he may never get a better chance to win an 18th slam title.
He was clearly upset but that was tempered by the sight of his four-year-old twin daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva sitting on the edge of the players' box at the end of the match.
Federer said: "It's just nice being in Wimbledon finals. Winning or losing, it's always something special and something you'll remember, even more so when the match was as dramatic as it was today.
"It's even more memorable when I see my kids there with my wife and everything. That's what touched me the most. The disappointment of the match itself went pretty quickly."
The crowd were with Federer from the first ball, with even the luminaries in the Royal Box, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, having to hide their enthusiasm for the game's elder statesman.
Federer met William and Kate afterwards but said: "I wasn't in a great state. I was unbelievably sad at that moment just when I left the court, so it was a difficult moment for I think the three of us. But they were very sweet to comfort me and wish me well."
He added of the crowd: " I could sense that they really wished me well and hoped for me to either get back in the match or hopefully lift another trophy here at Wimbledon.
"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it."