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Del Potro Advances to Semifinals

NEW YORK – Welcome to Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest tennis facility, Juan Martin del Potro.

Ranked sixth in the world, the Argentine had to wait until the quarterfinals to make it to the 23,700-seat facility this year without having to buy a ticket. Del Potro made sure he will return to the big stage in the semifinals after beating Marin Cilic 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-1 Thursday.

“It’s like a dream,” del Potro said of the victory. “My dream is win this tournament. I’m so close to do it, but now I am focusing (on) the semis.”

Del Potro will play the winner of the late quarterfinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Gonzalez, which was twice delayed by rain, the first time this fortnight that weather has caused an interruption in play. The match was eventually suspended until Friday, although rain, heavy at times, was forecast for the New York City area throughout Friday.

The other semifinal was set Wednesday when top-seeded Roger Federer, seeking his sixth straight US Open title, and fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic both won their quarterfinals.

Thursday’s first quarterfinal was an old-fashioned heavyweight battle, a throwback to the New York City days of championship heavyweight bouts in either Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. But this time the combatants stood 78 feet (23.77 m) apart, blasting tennis balls at each other.

Del Potro stood at one end of the court nestled at the bottom of Arthur Ashe Stadium, his Croatian opponent at the other.

Del Potro vs. Cilic. Two 6-foot-6 (1.98 m), 20-year-old right-handers who excel at the long-range gunnery that moves an opponent from side to side until an opening, ever so small, is created for a winning shot or one or the other commits an error.

Cilic pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the fourth round when he knocked off second-seeded Andy Murray. Del Potro ousted 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero in his fourth-round match.

Until Thursday, Cilic and del Potro had only met once before, del Potro winning in four sets at the Australian Open in January. Del Potro made it two straight, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as the score might indicate.

Cilic, seeded 16th and playing in his first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, was nearly perfect to begin the match. His powerful ground strokes found the far reaches of the court and every corner as he dominated play. He slammed 13 winners, six coming on forehands, controlling play.

“At the beginning of the match I was playing really good and moving him a lot around. I found after the first set that it got a lot cooler and the court was a little bit hard to play on. The ball wasn’t going through the court as much as it was in the beginning.”

Cilic’s sharp play in the opening set quickly disappeared along with the good weather that had graced this year’s US Open. He finished the match with 53 unforced errors against 29 winners, while del Potro balanced 24 unforced errors with 27 winners.

“Was a good comeback, you know, the crowd cheering for me at 1-3 in the second,” del Potro said. “I start to play better after that moment. … Of course I need to improve for the semis a lot, but I’m happy with my match and with the result.”

The match was played with temperatures in the mid-60s and winds gusting up to 30 mph.

“The weather was bad,” del Potro said, “but it was bad for both players. I just need to be in focus in the beginning of the match until the last point and play my game.”

The first title of the tournament was determined Thursday when Carly Gullickson and Todd Parrott, playing together for the first time, upset defending champions Cara Black and Leander Paes 6-2 6-4 to win the mixed doubles.

Serena and Venus Williams began the day by advancing to the women’s doubles final with a 7-6 (4) 3-6 6-2 win over Russians Alisa Kleybanova and Ekaterina Makarova.

Serena is scheduled to return to the court Friday for her women’s singles semifinal where she will take on another defending champion, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters. The second women’s semi pits ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark against unseeded Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.

Serena Williams, who captured the crown last year, is going for her fourth US Open title. Clijsters won in 2005, the last time she played America’s premier event because of injuries, retirement, marriage and the birth of a daughter.