New York: More than four years have passed since Marin Cilic's last Grand Slam semifinal appearance, an eternity in tennis years. The span included the peak of Cilic's years as a Croatian prodigy, a player graced with size and skill, but he never seemed to live up to the promise.
The low point came last year, when a doping suspension forced him to miss four months and sit out the U.S. Open. His ranking dipped to No. 37. He drew criticism from other players for the use of a banned stimulant, although he convinced an arbitrator that he was mostly not at fault.
A year later, Cilic has climbed out of that career valley. He beat sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (4), in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Thursday, launching himself into the semifinals of a major for the first time since he was a 21-year-old wonder at the 2010 Australian Open.
Cilic conquered swirling winds at Arthur Ashe Stadium, on a court his opponent was far more familiar with, only a few days after a grueling five-set match.
"This was an amazing day for me," Cilic, the 14th seed, said. "I had a very hard couple of years, but I'm very happy."
Berdych could not figure out the wind during the first two sets, dropping his first two service games and four of his first five. He eventually found his way, but by then Cilic had won the first two sets and was reveling in the upgrades to his game, including a powerful serve of his own.
"We are both hitting big, and it's a matter of who was going to put pressure on the other guy," Cilic said. "I think I did a little bit better today. I was returning a bit better, and I was putting a little bit more pressure on his second serve. Just overall, I felt that I used the wind a little bit better to my advantage."
Cilic will face the winner of Thursday night's match between second-seeded Roger Federer and 20th-seeded Gael Monfils.
If Cilic's wait seems long, it is nothing compared with that of Martina Hingis, who reached the women's doubles final with her partner, Flavia Pennetta of Italy. Hingis, 33, last appeared in a Grand Slam final in 2006, when she won the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open.
Hingis and Pennetta earned a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Cara Black and Sania Mirza on Thursday, setting up Saturday's final against Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia, who won their semifinal, 7-5, 6-3, over Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Makarova continued her remarkable run in this tournament. Having reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in singles, she will play No. 1 Serena Williams on Friday afternoon.
A run to a final is nothing new to the men's doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, whose next title will be their 100th. They earned a shot at it with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram in an all-American semifinal in the first match of the day at Ashe.
When the Bryans play Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez of Spain on Sunday, they will also be seeking their first Grand Slam title of the year, which would add to their nine-year streak of winning at least one major.
© 2014 New York Times News Service