The American teenager nearly came back to take the second set, but the defending ladies champion held on for the victory. In men's play, the defending champ cruised past David Ferrer.
Sloane Stephens sat for nine minutes, mostly staring at the court and trying to forget the curious timing of Victoria Azarenka's medical timeout.
She may have been the only one trying to ignore it.
The 19-year-old American had just saved five match points and broken Azarenka. But she knew she had to hold serve to stay in her first Grand Slam semifinal whenever Azarenka — the No. 1 player and defending Australian Open champion — returned to Rod Laver Arena.
The restless murmuring in the crowd gave way to slow claps. Why had Azarenka chosen that very moment for a medical break?
Azarenka eventually hustled onto the court, and Stephens won only three more points.
"I almost did the choke of the year," Azarenka said in a frank admission during an on-court interview. "At 5-3, having so many chances, I couldn't close it out."
The crowd that had cheered wildly for Stephens, only 25 hours after she ousted an injured Serena Williams, gave Azarenka tepid applause as she left the court following her 6-1, 6-4 victory. She'll face 2011 finalist Li Na in the final Saturday night. Given the support Li enjoyed in her 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, there's no question which player the crowd will favor in the title match.
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