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Defending champ Marin Cilic holds off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach U.S. Open semifinals

Marin Cilic reacts after he wins his match

Marin Cilic reacts after he wins his match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga during the men's singles quarterfinals at the U.S. Open tennis tournament on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It's one thing to turn the page and move on, and this year's U.S. Open has progressed with a minimum of attention to last year's champion, Croatia's Marin Cilic.

For a tense couple of hours Tuesday, it appeared the tournament would skip to another chapter altogether, and leave Cilic behind. After taking the first two sets of his quarterfinal duel with Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Cilic let three match points slip away in the fourth set, and another in the fifth, before regaining his bearings for a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4 victory.

The fourth match point was squandered when Cilic double-faulted at 5-4 and ad in the fifth set, and Tsonga followed that with an inside-out forehand placed perfectly on the line. But Cilic then hit a backhand stab volley winner, a cross-court forehand to the open court, and another cross-court forehand that Tsonga sent long off his backhand.

That kept alive Cilic's streak of never having lost a major-tournament match after winning the first two sets. He is 48-0 in those situations, and the victory extended his match winning streak at Flushing Meadows to 12.

Cilic -- the first palindromic Open champ since Monica Seles in 1992 -- has acknowledged this week that having last year's title in his pocket "for sure has some weight to it. This experience, you know, defending the Grand Slam title for the first time is something that I'm going to learn a lot from.

"It changes, in your mind . . . a different approach. But you still have to bring to your mind that it's another Grand Slam, and still the performances on the court are the most important."

At 26, Cilic is the youngest remaining player in the men's draw, yet any expectations that he is ready to join the likes of Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray (and maybe Wawrinka) as a perennial Slam title threat have been fairly muted.

Now ranked ninth in the world, Cilic missed the January Australian Open because of a bad right shoulder and played only one tournament the first three months of the year. He was bumped out of the French Open in the fourth round and eliminated from Wimbledon in the quarterfinals.

And he hasn't exactly sailed through this tournament, needing five sets to rid himself of the 56th-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in the third round.

But Cilic did put a dent in Tsonga's previously dangerous serve, which had not been broken in 60 straight games here before Cilic broke him in the ninth game of the first set.

Djokovic gains semis: Top-seeded Novak Djokovic beat Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) to reach the Open semifinals for the ninth straight year. He will face Cilic.

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