September 4, 2015 / 8:38 PM / 2 years ago

Cilic survives scare, keeps Open defence on track

Marin Cilic of Croatia returns a shot to Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan on day five of the 2015 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Marin Cilic kept his U.S. Open title defence on track but not without a scare as the ninth seed needed over four hours to put away Mikhail Kukushkin and reach the fourth round with a 6-7(5) 7-6(1) 6-3 6-7(3) 6-1 win on Friday.

Cilic stepped onto the Grandstand court having won 16 straight sets at Flushing Meadows but that string quickly came to an end when the 56th-ranked Kukushkin took the opening set in a tiebreak in what was the start of a long and harrowing afternoon for the defending champion.

”I‘m happy with the fighting spirit today, just accepting that I wasn’t playing so well,“ said Cilic. ”For sure (being defending champion) always has some weight to it.

”Playing on a big court with a full house, that’s going to give you some extra motivation in the situations like today when I was a set and 5-2 down.

“I was in the thought process that I am going to stay on the court as much as necessary.”

Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan hits a forehand against Marin Cilic of Croatia (not pictured) on day five of the 2015 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After crashing out in the first or second round of his last 16 tournaments, Kukushkin appeared determined to maintain an extended grand slam run following a second-round upset of 17th seed Grigor Dimitrov.

For four sets, the 27-year-old from Kazakhstan gave Cilic all he could handle and more but in the fifth he simply ran out of steam as the Croat surged ahead 5-0 before closing out the marathon encounter with his 27th ace.

”Today was very strange coming into the fourth set,“ said Cilic. ”I felt that Mikhail was struggling a little bit physically and then I was really on top of him. Having a break up in the fourth, 15-40, few chances to go a double-break up.

”From then on things got complicated. He was making a lot of shots and just swinging. It wasn’t easy to play.

“I didn’t know actually what to expect.”

Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes

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