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Marin Cilic holds on to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 5 sets at US Open

NEW YORK -- The defending US Open champion made a modest statement Tuesday, winning his 12th straight match here at the National Tennis Center.

The question afterMarin Cilic's6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4 quarterfinal victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Is anyone listening?

Lost in the backwash of Serena Williams' celebrated quest for the calendar-year Grand Slam, somewhere in the wake of Novak Djokovic's spirited run for three majors, is the story of Cilic, who is trying to become the first man to repeat as US Open champion since Roger Federer won five in a row from 2004-08.

Cilic, the No. 9 seed, did little to inflame excitement Tuesday, squandering four match points and nearly blowing a two-set lead. But he scraped across the finish line and will play Friday against the winner of the Novak Djokovic-Feliciano Lopez match.

Tuesday's match went 3 hours, 59 minutes and was a tasty appetizer on Arthur Ashe Stadium before the entre that was Serena versus Venus Williams. Cilic had 29 aces and a terrific ratio of winners to unforced errors, 63 to 37.

What was he most proud of?

"Just being mentally there," Cilic, a 26-year-old native of Croatia, said in his on-court interview. "Even though I lost the third and fourth sets, I didn't back off my game plan. The atmosphere was electric.

"Jo came up with amazing shots."

A year ago, Cilic played the tournament of his life, taking down Tomas Berdych, Federer and Kei Nishikori on his way to his first career major.

Cilic is 48-0 when he wins the first 2 sets in a Grand Slam.

Tsonga, seeded No. 19 here, skipped the Australian Open with an arm injury but advanced to the semifinals at Roland Garros before losing to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. Tsonga, a 30-year-old Frenchman, reached his first quarterfinal here since 2011 without losing a single service game.

Against Cilic, however, Tsonga lost his concentration briefly on several occasions, and it cost him. After Cilic overturned a Tsonga advantage through replay, he forced a forehand error that ended a streak of 60 straight successful service games leading to the first set. In the fifth game of the second set, Tsonga double-faulted to give Cilic the decisive edge.

Tsonga saved two match points when serving at 4-5 in the fourth set and another trying to get to the tiebreaker, in which he prevailed.

Serving at 5-4 in the fifth, Cilic finally won a two-deuce game, responding to the pressure with aces of 130 and 135 mph and forcing two forehand errors from Tsonga.

Cilic, too, did not play the Australian Open because of an injury, a sore shoulder. He came into the fortnight with a modest 4-4 hardcourt record but has slowly found his form. Going forward, he might feel weary; his third-round match against Mikhail Kukushkin ran 4 hours, 11 minutes. Cilic has won the last four matches against Tsonga.

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Marin Cilic needs five sets to put away Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and advance to the US Open semifinals.
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