NEW YORK • Ever since 2008, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic have played tennis against one another in Asia, Europe and North America. They have played in Major tournaments, ATP events and the Davis Cup; on grass, clay and hard courts.
There has been great variety in the settings of their 13 matches, but with one common thread: Djokovic has won them all.
The latest encounter in that lopsided series will come in the men's semi-finals of the US Open tomorrow after Djokovic, the top seed, outlasted Feliciano Lopez, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), in their quarter-final.
Earlier, No. 9 seed Cilic squandered three match points in the fourth set before finally defeating Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4.
The match lasted a minute shy of four hours in sweltering conditions at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Djokovic and Cilic have each won one US Open - Djokovic in 2011 and Cilic last year.
Cilic's first Major title, however, was not a golden ticket into the upper echelons of tennis. He has not backed it up with another championship. Instead, the Croat was sidelined for months with a shoulder injury and has yet to reach a final in any tournament this year.
He missed the Australian Open, lost in the fourth round at the French Open and fell in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
But he is quietly making his way through the draw here, just as he did last year, when his performance as the 14th seed attracted little notice until he stunned Federer in the semi-finals with an overpowering display of serving and pinpoint ground strokes.
Still, Djokovic is a different proposition. "Toughest match-up for me," Cilic said. "I haven't beaten him in my career. I had close matches the last few years, but I haven't found the right formula to be able to win the match."
What he has is the ability to win the "big mental fight". Cilic, who needed five sets and more than four hours to get past Mikhail Kukushkin in the third round, was up for the battle again 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 tie-break that he won comfortably to set up the climactic fifth set.
But the 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.
"I stayed mentally tough," Cilic said.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES