For most of the match the No.1-seeded Azarenka was cruising, winning the first set in 33 minutes and building a 61 20 lead. But just like she had done the day before against Serena Williams, Stephens hung around, mixing in some big forehands with forays into the net, and of course running Azarenka's blasts down wherever possible. She won the next two games for 61 22; the dynamic had changed.
"The first set she played awesome; got close in the second," Stephens said in her press conference after the match. "I just didn't want to give it to her, basically. I just worked for every point."
Azarenka pulled away again, building a 5-3 lead - she missed out on five match points in that game, all on unforced errors, but closed out a 61 64 victory over the No.29 seed in the next game.
"I did my best - I obviously didn't get the win, but I did everything I could and came up a little bit short," Stephens said. "These last three weeks I've done the best I could on court. I tried my best and just left it all out there. It is what it is - I think I've done a pretty amazing job after not playing as much tennis as I would have liked to the months before. And I have a lot of momentum. All in all, it's okay."
Stephens had never been past the fourth round of a Grand Slam before this fortnight, and with this semifinal run she will break into the Top 20 for the first time when the new rankings are out.
"I've obviously had three losses in three weeks, but Serena is one of the greatest players to me, and Vika, No.1 player in the world, not bad - and Vesnina, who won the tournament in Hobart last week. I'm obviously coming out of the Australian summer with amazing momentum, knowing I can pretty much hang in there with anybody out there and even beat some of the best players in the world."
"I'm really hungry to defend my title, that was my first goal - actually, not to defend, it was to win the tournament. I've put myself in the position to give it the best shot there is, being in the final."
And on No.6 seed Li Na, who awaits in the final? "She's in incredible form right now, really," Azarenka said. "In the finals anything can happen. It looks like she has improved a lot. It will be a tough match.
"I'm really looking forward to it."