Simona Halep lost another grand slam final but the Australian Open runner-up exceeded even her own expectations by taking part in Saturday's decider as she was left feeling the effects of a painful and gruelling campaign at Melbourne Park.
In a titanic battle between the world number one and two, who were each seeking a maiden slam title at the third attempt, Halep succumbed in three sets to Caroline Wozniacki, losing top spot in the WTA rankings to the Dane as a result.
Halep hurt her ankle in the opening round last week and came into the final having spent almost 12 hours on court following marathon classics against Lauren Davis and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.
The two-time French Open finalist also saved match points en route to the decider but she finally ran out of gas in humid and testing conditions on Rod Laver Arena, where she battled heat fatigue, tendon problems in her feet and cramps.
Asked if she thought a spot in the final was possible after she was injured against Australian Destanee Aiava in round one, Halep responded: "No, no, because it was really bad.
"It was hurting every day. In the practice, I couldn't practice more than 10, 15 minutes. So every day I just played to feel the ball 15 minutes, and that was it. I didn't believe that I can go through all these matches. But I wanted to.
"It looks like I have enough inside power to fight with everything. So it's a good thing. This tournament meant a lot for me."
Halep – who confirmed she will miss the upcoming WTA event in St Petersburg as she recuperates and undergoes MRIs on her feet – told reporters: "I can still smile. It's fine. I cried, but now I'm smiling. It's just a tennis match in the end.
"But I'm really sad I couldn't win it. I was close again, but the gas was over in the end. She [Wozniacki] was better. She was fresher. She had actually more energy in the end.
"I was really tired. I had so many problems at my feet, pain everywhere. I think I did pretty well with all the things that were going on. After the first set, I just was out. I don't know what happened. No energy, no power.
"But then I just said that I have to hit all the balls, and then I could take the second set. I came back in the third set, but when I had to serve for [a] 5-3 [lead], the gas was gone, so I couldn't make it. It's a bit sad."
Halep added: "I felt ready. But the body was not ready because I had so many long matches. The muscles were tired. The feet were not good enough. But mentally I was ready.
"I feel that I can face any challenge. I can play against anyone. I can win against anyone. But sometimes it is not how you want because you cannot physically do it."