Pushed to 5th set, 2014 US Open champ Cilic edges Tsonga

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NEW YORK (AP) Pushed to a fifth set after coming so close to victory, defending champion Marin Cilic kept his act together and held on to get back to the U.S. Open semifinals.

Unfazed by wasting a big lead or match points, the ninth-seeded Cilic stretched his winning streak at Flushing Meadows to 12 matches by beating 19th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4 on Tuesday night.

“A big mental fight,” the Croatian called it, “especially after losing that fourth set.”

The quarterfinal took nearly four hours in Arthur Ashe Stadium, delaying the start of the match between Serena and Venus Williams. A large crowd of spectators gathered outside the arena, waiting to enter for the night session.

Cilic appeared to be heading to a relatively straightforward win after taking the first two sets, considering he was 47-0 in his Grand Slam career when up by that margin.

But Tsonga took the third set by finally converting his seventh break point of the match, and then serving it out from 15-30 by taking the last three points with a pair of service winners at 131 mph and 132 mph, followed by a 124 mph ace.

Tsonga, the 2008 Australian-Open runner-up, then saved three match points in the fourth set to force a fifth.

“Jo just came up with amazing shots,” Cilic said.

In the last set, Cilic broke at love to lead 3-2, and didn’t falter this time, although he did need another two match points to close it out, double-faulting on one, before finally winning when Tsonga sailed a forehand long.

“It’s a lot of frustration, of course, but that’s tennis,” Tsonga said.

In the semifinals, Cilic will face No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 18 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, who were scheduled to meet in Tuesday’s last match. It was Djokovic’s 26th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, including nine in a row at Flushing Meadows. For the 33-year-old Lopez, it was his first time making it that far in 14 U.S. Open appearances, and only his fourth career quarterfinal at any major tournament.

The two men’s quarterfinals on the other half of the men’s draw are Wednesday: No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 12 Richard Gasquet of France, and No. 5 Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 15 Kevin Anderson of South Africa.

Tsonga entered his quarterfinal against Cilic having held in all 56 of his service games in the tournament, a streak that reached 60 before Cilic broke to go up 5-4 in the first set. Cilic broke early in the second, too, and wound up winning three of Tsonga’s service games.

Tsonga helped out by double-faulting 11 times.

“I just served, I would say, very bad compared to the other days,” Tsonga said.

Cilic, meanwhile, hit 29 aces and saved nine of 10 break points.

Cilic wore a thick brace on his right ankle, which he tweaked during his fourth-round victory over another Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy. But it was Tsonga who appeared more troubled by an ailment, wearing a thick band of tape under his left knee.

“I don’t really want to talk about this, you know,” Tsonga said. “It’s part of the game, unfortunately, for me.”

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Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.