Melbourne took its toll on the world's best, says Stephen Tring...
Grand Slams are often about the survival of the fittest - and there was little doubt at the end of a gruelling two weeks that Amelie Mauresmo was just that.
The Frenchwoman stood tall through the hottest two weeks of one of the warmest Melbourne summers on record to capture her first-ever major title, although only having to complete four her seven matches helped.
But that could not detract from the fact she was no longer the best woman in the world not to have won a Grand Slam.
Mauresmo did everything but win on match point as she carried out a demolition job on Justine Henin-Hardenne in the women's singles final.
Leading 6-1, 2-0, the champion was cruelly denied the satisfaction of a complete victory when Henin-Hardenne was forced to withdraw due to illness.
However, the third seed was just after a Grand Slam title, regardless of how it came.
"I've been waiting so long for this and really worked hard for this, as well. It's a really great achievement," she said.
"I now have achieved everything I wanted in my career; Fed Cup, being number one and winning a Grand Slam.
"So I'm very proud of that, I have to say. I'm probably the proudest woman for now."
Third seed Mauresmo, the 1999 Melbourne runner-up, added: "It would have been probably different if the match went to the end but the joy is here."
Mauresmo raced into a 5-0 lead after breaking eighth seed Henin-Hardenne in the second and fourth games, the second one coming after an uncharacteristic backhand error by the Belgian.
Mauresmo served out the set after 33 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, Henin-Hardenne netting a forehand service return on the final point as Mauresmo finally put paid to her reputation as a big-match choker. She grabbed another service break in the opening game of the second set but former world No 1 Henin-Hardenne was clearly struggling and could go no further, retiring after 52 minutes at 0-30 on her serve.
Henin-Hardenne said she had suffered an upset stomach after doubling the dose of anti-inflammatory tablets she had been taking for a shoulder problem, adding that she had no regrets.
"It's my decision, my choice. I decided to walk on the court because I'm professional, I want to try," said Henin-Hardenne.
The Belgian, the first woman to retire from the final of a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era, said she realised many people would think she should have carried on.
"Everyone has the right to think that but it's my health," said a tearful Henin-Hardenne, who was unable to defend her 2004 Australian Open title last year because of a knee injury. "I have to think about myself right now. It's me that was feeling bad," she said.
Mauresmo, who will move up a place to number two in the world, said she would have given everything to stay on the court.
"I was ready to die on the court today," Mauresmo said.
Henin-Hardenne called for assistance from a trainer after winning a 33-shot long rally in the second game of the second set. She went back out on the court and played two more points before deciding she could not continue.
"I'm feeling very disappointed to lose the tournament this way," she said. "I'm feeling so sick, I couldn't stay on the court any more."