Andy Murray was the runt in this golden age of men's tennis. Not any more. Even in defeat it was easy to marvel at his transformation over the last seven months. Weaklings and also-rans are not seen in three consecutive grand slam finals.
A good player who seemed doomed never to make the leap to great, Murray should not revert to his old nearly-man role after being cuffed around by Novak Djokovic in the third and fourth sets in Melbourne. Even if his hamstring-clutching and moans about the crowd hinted at recidivism, Britain's first grand slam title winner since Fred Perry in 1936 is unlikely to trade his new-found strength for his former vulnerability.
No British sportsman has scaled a higher mountain of doubt than Murray: his, and ours. Where Tim Henman threw himself at Wimbledon only to bounce off at the semi-final stage Murray had contested four grand slam finals and lost them all before his US Open win in September. In 13 sets of big-time tennis he had won one and lost 12.
His triumph in New York was thus a jab in the eye for those who thought he would maintain this pattern right to the end. Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would use him as a punch-bag while sharing the biggest prizes between themselves. History backed this up. Between the 2005 French Open and Murray's victory at Flushing Meadow, that gilded trio had won every grand slam tournament bar the 2009 US Open.
Objectively, there was no reason to think Murray would ever break into this cartel unless the debonair Federer, a refugee from The Great Gatsby, succumbed to time's arrow, or Nadal's knees gave way. Both have come to pass, leaving Djokovic and Murray in the leading roles, but Britain's Olympic champion has not relied on luck or charity.
The backdrop to an increasingly one-sided final at the Rod Laver Arena is that Djokovic has won four of his six major titles in Melbourne in January and is unbeaten in 21 matches on the blue lino. No one in the Open era had won it three times on the spin. Djokovic's dominance in Australia is starting to match that of Nadal on French clay.
To overcome the mental barrier of four grand-slam final defeats was a colossal achievement. A suspicion was that a worm would bore into Murray's head. He would be stripped of the belief that a coronation was still possible. An autobiography would come out one day revealing his losing war with doubt. Pathos would be the defining tone of a good but limited career.
But then came the great London Olympic legacy. In Murray's case it took the form of liberation. No serious observer doubts that his gold medal-winning performance against Federer on Wimbledon's Centre Court at London 2012 laid the psychological ground for what happened in New York: the victory over Djokovic that saved him from becoming the first man in the Open era to lose his first five finals.
At that brutal tipping point, Murray's career swung the right way, to vindication. If he needed help through all those early years of striving, it was not from the gung-ho verbosity of Brad Gilbert, the American coach hired at such vast expense. Instead he found a mentor similar temperament: the intense, inscrutable Ivan Lendl, a fellow sufferer who endured his own grand slam final agonies before making the jump to world No?1.
Lendl, plainly, has hacked away at the needless emotionalism in Murray's game. He has shown him the futility of self-dramatisation. The process is not complete. Murray sent Djokovic far too many distress signals in Melbourne. He berated the umpire for not controlling the crowd, showed his blisters to the world and winced and clutched his hamstring in a manner that was bound to encourage his opponent.
A fair assumption is that Lendl will want to put Murray back on the path to ruthlessness. By the fourth set in Melbourne he was physically forlorn.
These are marks in the debit column, though the pain in his feet was genuine. The shift from fuzzy-haired slacker to terminator has been brilliantly orchestrated. If a few details still need clearing up, one is to swap those clunky ankle-supporting boots for some shoes that might enhance agility.
But we can still look forward with confidence to a two or three-year spell in which Murray is a strong contender for every major title. Unless Nadal recovers his old power, Murray and Djokovic will share top-billing, even though today's new ATP rankings will place Murray third, behind Federer.
Djokovic is a mighty foe. Murray is slugging it out with player much like himself. He has the measure of Federer now. The grand old man is overwhelmed by Murray's power. Djokovic, though, is a superior counter-attacker and has a deeper reservoir of confidence. When Serbia's national gladiator gets inspired Murray is still liable to end up demoralised.
His third loss in four Australian Open finals points to the near invincibility of Djokovic on that surface. So Murray's quest for a second Grand Slam title will lead him via Paris to the green, green grass of home, where he cried after losing last year's final, but looks a likely Wimbledon champion. That day has not receded. It felt closer even as he was being mashed late on in Melbourne, by the real wizard of Oz.