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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Defending champion Marin Cilic squandered three match points in the fourth set but was still proud of how he finished off a tough victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that carried him through to the U.S. Open semi-finals on Tuesday.
Trailing by two sets to one, Tsonga saved two match points in the 10th game to hold for 5-5 and another two games later to force a tiebreak that he won comfortably to set up the climactic fifth set.
However, the ninth-seeded Croat shook off the disappointment of failing to close out the contest by breaking the Frenchman to love for a 3-2 lead and held serve thereafter before cashing in his fifth match point for a 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-7(3) 6-4 victory.
With the win, Cilic advances to a semi-final against either top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia or 18th-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
"I stayed mentally tough," said Cilic, who won his maiden grand slam title in a surprise Flushing Meadows final against Japan's Kei Nishikori a year ago.
"Jo came up with unbelievable shots but I stuck with my plan. It was a difficult day, very demanding, very hot. Mentally it was very exhausting."
Cilic, 26, hammered home 29 aces in the stifling conditions.
"I would say pride," he answered, when asked if he was more proud or relieved by his progress. "I came to the tournament knowing that I can play well here, that I just needed a couple of matches to get into the rhythm.
"I just kept cool."
Tsonga had not dropped serve in his first four wins of the tournament but Cilic broke him in the ninth game of the match when the Frenchman double-faulted.
The 19th-seeded Tsonga then offered little resistance in the second set as Cilic lost just three points on serve.
Tsonga had his left knee taped during a medical timeout before the start of the third set and appeared revitalized by the break.
He used a pair of booming forehands to set up a first service break on his seventh opportunity of the match to grab a third-set winning 5-3 lead on the way to making it a five-set thriller.
"He just hit the ball a little bit more properly than me at the right moment, and that was a huge difference at the end, because he just made it," Tsonga said.
The defeat prevented Tsonga, 30, from completing a set of grand slam semi-final appearances as the U.S. Open remains the only major where he has yet to reach the last four.
Editing by Andrew Both/John O'Brien