The fairytale run of Zhang Shuai at the Australian Open is over, but the Chinese No.1 will leave Melbourne Park with fresh hope.
Zhang began her time in Melbourne as a hitting partner for Australian No.1 Sam Stosur as she searched for a qualifying ticket.
Fast forward a fortnight and Zhang has shelved any retirement plans – famously revealed after a first-round win over world No.2 Simona Halep – and instead is looking to the Olympic Games.
The Chinese world No.133 became a crowd favourite with a dynamite run from qualifying to the last eight.
After three qualifying wins, Zhang announced herself by defeating Halep.
Wins over top-50 players Alize Cornet, Varvara Lepchecnko and 15th seed Madison Keys followed; and a dream audience with Australian legend Margaret Court.
But with Stosur watching on in her box, she found British No.1 Johanna Konta one player she couldn’t upset in Wednesday’s quarter-final.
“(I was) feeling so tired. Everything (was) feeling very slow on court,” she said.
“But in my heart I’m feeling I already win the tournament because I win seven matches.”
Zhang was embraced by local crowds and by tournament organisers, who bill the tournament as Asia’s grand slam but have lacked an woman challenger from the continent since the retirement of Li Na.
She paid tribute to Stosur, who rallied behind Zhang when her own tournament was long done.
“She’s helped me a lot in my life,” Zhang said.
“We practice sometimes together. We eat dinner together.
“She’s a very great player (and) I wish she can win one more grand slam.”
Having broken her own grand slam duck, Zhang said her sights were set on Rio.
“All the Chinese players, the goal this year, we want to play the Olympic Games,” she said.
“I have to win a lot of matches, and (drop my ranking) from 200 to top 60.
“This is so tough for me. But I did great job these two weeks. I’m so happy.”
There’s more good news on the way for Zhang.
Her efforts over the past fortnight will cut her ranking in half, putting her on the brink of Olympic qualification.
The most unlikely story of the Australian Open could yet resume in Brazil.