The grand slam tournament that has given Rafael Nadal more grief than any other dealt the Spanish great one more savage blow on Sunday.
A back problem which worsened dramatically after Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka had made the unlikeliest of fast starts cruelled Nadal’s chances of drawing level with Pete Sampras on 14 majors, behind only pacesetter Roger Federer (17).
But the world No.1 didn’t go down without a heck of a fight.
For half an hour or so after taking a medical timeout to receive treatment on his back early in the second set, it seemed only a matter of time before the Spanish slugger would become the first man since Stefan Edberg in 1990 to withdraw midway through an Australian Open final.
But with the pain receding somewhat – and with Wawrinka now battling his own mental demons while within touching distance of his first major title – Nadal somehow found a way to push the match into a fourth set.
In the end, it wasn’t enough, with the Swiss baseliner recovering his composure to win 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3.
“When that happens during a match it is almost impossible,” said Nadal, who fought back tears while addressing the crowd in the post-match presentation.
“I tried hard.
“The last thing I wanted to do was retire.
“I would hate to do that, especially in a final.
“At the same time, it’s tough (when) during the whole year you are working for a moment like this, and the moment arrives and you feel that you are not able to play at your best.
“So it was not an easy situation for me to be on court like this, but I tried hard until the end, trying to finish the match as good as I can for the crowd, for the opponent, for me.
“So that’s what I did – I tried everything until the last moment, but it was impossible to win this way.
“My opponent was too good.”
Nadal missed last year’s Open through illness as his great rival Novak Djokovic won a third straight Australian title.
He also skipped the 2006 Open with a foot injury, was forced to retire midway through his quarter-final in 2010 with a knee complaint and had his 2011 campaign curtailed by a hamstring strain.
His sole Australian Open title came in 2009, sitting alongside eight French Opens and two victories apiece at Wimbledon and the US Open.
As ever, Nadal was gracious in defeat on Sunday against Wawrinka, a man who had failed to take a single set off him in 12 previous attempts.
“This is Stan’s day, not my day,” he said.
“As I say before, I try my best and it was not possible for me today.
“I’m obviously disappointed and very sad about what happened.
“But that’s life, that’s sport.
“I really had a lot of great moments in my career and this is a tough one.”
Despite losing the final, Nadal will extend his lead atop the world rankings after a remarkably successful 2013, during which time he came back from a serious knee injury to win major titles numbers 12 and 13 at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows.