Peng Shuai refused to surrender her US Open dream in the locker room Friday, preferring to go down in glory on a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium despite heat illness leaving her a tearful, crumbling wreck.
Peng was trailing Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (7/1) 4-3 in her semi-final when she left the court to seek treatment -- at the time believed to be for cramping -- and play was held up for 10 minutes.
The 28-year-old Chinese star returned, played a few points but then collapsed to the ground before being taken from the court in a wheelchair in agony and in tears, surrounded by medical staff and officials.
"The doctor said to me, You are not able really go out to fight and compete, because you don't look well. But I said, No, no, no, I don't want to give up. I want to try one more time," she explained.
"And then I come back. I know I'm not going to stay too long, but I just wanted to try to challenge her one more time."
As she keeled over behind the baseline and with temperatures believed to be in the low 30-degrees, she said she could not remember if she offered to default or whether the decision was made for her.
"My body was really hot and I could not really breathe. I could not remember. Maybe they didn't want me to die on court."
Tournament director David Brewer defended the decision to allow Peng to return to the court.
"Peng wanted to go back on court and the trainer and doctor believed she would not endanger herself, she's a highly-trained athlete," added Brewer.
"She played a few more points but it was too much for her at the end of the day. We need to be mindful of the health care of personnel we care very deeply for."
Watching from the CBS commentary box, US legend John McEnroe was not impressed.
"I feel sick to the stomach just watching this," he said.
Wozniacki, the runner-up in 2009 to Kim Clijsters, said she was unconcerned if the delay broke the rules governing medical timeouts -- a 10-minute delay for cramping would usually attract a sanction.
- Doesn't look good -
She went over to Peng to console her opponent in her moment of agony.
"It was really hard to watch for me whenever I saw her collapse on the court. Tennis is great, but the health is more important. I just wanted to make sure she was OK. I got the word that she's OK now and just getting cooled down, so that's great to hear," said the Dane.
"I didn't know the rules. If it's just cramping then you can't have a medical, but whenever it's heat illness, then you're allowed to get treatment for it.
"When she collapsed on the court that second time, I was like, OK, this doesn't look very good."
Wozniacki, recently voted the best sportswoman on the tour, said she was aware of Peng's early life medical dramas.
"I know that she's had heart surgery when she was 13, so that's definitely something that, you know, I think she was worried about that as well."
Wozniacki will face world number one and five-time champion Serena Williams in Sunday's final.
Williams said she was "saddened" by the scenes.
"I saw it when I was warming up for the match. I was really saddened by it. She's such a great person. We train sometimes at the same academy. It didn't make me happy at all. You never want to see anyone go out like that. I'm just hoping she's better," said the American.