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Match Spotlight: Juan Martin DEL POTRO (ARG) v Tomas BERDYCH (CZE)

With the major marquee idols missing-in-action (except for new world’s #1 Rafael Nadal), the spotlight roams around in search of someone else to step into the frame to potentially challenge Nadal.

Today’s match pits two of the strongest supporting players in the game against each other. Del Potro is the lone alive player outside the Big Five (Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Nadal, and Wawrinka) to win a Gram Slam title (2009 US Open). Berdych has been a perennial groomsman (a semifinalist at each of the Slams with a Wimbledon final on his resume, yet no wins). In a different age, there’s a distinct likelihood that he may have been a multiple Slam winner, thanks to his size, power, and sharp-eyed presence.

I liken each of these guys to actors relegated to the B-list. At 28 and 31 respectively, Del Potro and Berdych feel a bit like Clive Owen-caliber performers. Players with all the skills and even a cache of intangibles that have them standing at the edge of leading man status, but no sustained box office win to solidify their presence in the A-list.

So why is their match drifting along like Owen’s lackluster turn in this summer’s dud Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? Expectations abound and the scene is electric, but neither of them has the energy or passion befitting the moment. Long and lean, each of them can bring the heat with big booming serves and forehand rockets.

So, where is the firepower?

Del Potro slips up early in the first set, allowing Berdych an easy break, which he rides to 6-3. In the second set, Del Potro finds a hint of fire, breaks, but then takes his foot off the gas. Berdych seizes the opportunity and knots things up, setting up a tiebreaker. Del Potro accelerates quickly, monopolizing the tie break (7-1) sending the match to third and deciding set.

The match thus far has been about as exciting as that description. It could be that they realize there’s no need to get too-up before the stakes really reach a fevered pitch.

Del Potro earns a break in the first game of the third set with a punishing attack at the net. The two, both inside the service line, fire off shots like duelists, but Del Potro wisely settles himself and makes Berdych pay. He backs up the break with a solid hold. He breaks Berdych again and again, but with the match on his racket with a 5-0 lead, I still don’t feel like he has flipped the necessary switch.

I want star power. I’ll keep looking.