As the 2013 season approaches, BTB looks at the top crop of players to see who we’d buy, sell or hold. Today we examine the ATP.
Novak Djokovic (Current rank — No. 1): If you haven’t bought Djokovic’s stock for the long haul by now, you’re probably out of luck. Having successfully defended his 2011 season by once again finishing as the year-end No. 1, Djokovic has demonstrated once and for all that yes, he is this good, and yes, he’s here to stay. After a year of winning the Australian Open, grabbing six titles and making the semifinals or better at 15 of 17 tournaments, Djokovic doesn’t have much left to prove. The one thing he’ll have his eye on in 2013? The French Open. It’s the one Grand Slam missing from his collection, and with Rafael Nadal on the mend he could have a chance to complete the career Grand Slam. Even if he doesn’t, there’s no reason to think Djokovic can’t replicate his 2012 success, if not better it. Verdict: Buy.
Roger Federer (No. 2): Federer’s decision to reduce his schedule in 2013 seems to signal an end to his quest for rankings domination or an overall title hunt and the beginning of the “Slam Champion or Bust” era. It took a tremendous effort and heavy schedule for Federer to recapture the No. 1 ranking after Wimbledon, which allowed him to set the record for number of weeks in the top spot. I suspect his ranking will drop next year with the return of Nadal and, theoretically, Andy Murray’s assumed improvement at Masters events. Federer may not have the season of consistency that he had in 2012 ever again, but he’ll continue to be one of the favorites at every major. The 2013 Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion? I could see it. Verdict: Hold.
Andy Murray (No. 3): Murray is almost always a buy at the start of the season, if for no other reason than he’s the only guy in the top four — or top 10, even — who can still improve his results by miles. Sure, the U.S. Open title and Wimbledon final will be tough to duplicate, but where Murray can make up so much ground is in his play outside the Slams. In 2012, Murray failed to win back-to-back matches at five of his eight Masters 1000 tournaments. That’s a dismal record and one he can only improve in 2013. Verdict: Buy.
Rafael Nadal (No. 4): I admit to being more bullish on Nadal’s return than most pundits. His 2013 will obviously depend on his knees and how quickly he can play himself into a place of confidence. He’ll likely get passed by David Ferrer in the rankings early, which should make for some interesting draws at Indian Wells, Miami or even parts of the clay season if he’s clashing with top-four players as early as the quarterfinals. But his real test will come on clay. If Nadal can win Roland Garros again after taking all that time off, he’ll be all teed up for the second half of the year, when he’ll be able to pick up points he lost in 2012. Verdict: Buy.
David Ferrer (No. 5): Can the 30-year-old Ferrer back up a career year in which he won his first Masters title, made two Grand Slam semifinals and collected seven titles? Short answer: No. Nadal’s return will likely cut into some of the success Ferrer had in the second half of the season, and Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro look poised to make a push in 2013 to grab that No. 5 spot. Verdict: Sell.
Tomas Berdych (No. 6): The prevailing theory is that a Davis Cup title can be a springboard to immediate success. Berdych will put that to the test in 2013, when he’ll try to build on the consistency he showed this season. Unlike Ferrer, Berdych plays the Big Four tough, and he has the weapons to beat anyone on any given day. That’s always been the case, but it seems that Berdych actually believes it now. Verdict: Buy.
Juan Martin del Potro (No. 7): We debated Del Potro’s 2013 prospects in last week’s Toss, so I won’t copy and paste what I wrote there. In sum, at his best, Del Potro is a top-five player for sure. The question is whether he can bring his best consistently at the big tournaments and believe that he can beat the elite. I’m not sure he’ll finish the year in the top four, but all signs point to improvement. Verdict: Buy.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 8): Can new coach Roger Rasheed help Tsonga find the hunger again and rein in his explosive — in good ways and bad — game? We won’t get a sense of the answer until the season kicks off. Verdict: Hold.
Janko Tipsarevic (No. 9): Tipsarevic says he has to manage his schedule better next season to protect his body, which means more pressure to perform well at the tournaments he does end up playing. The 28-year-old Serb scratched into the top 10 based on his ability to fly all around the world and pick the low-hanging fruit, playing smaller tournaments with lighter fields to accumulate points. So can he step up and make the round of 16 or quarterfinals regularly at the Slams and Masters? I’m not convinced. Verdict: Sell.
Richard Gasquet (No. 10): “Gasquet’s No. 10? How the heck did that happen?” That may have been my reaction after looking at the year-end rankings. I suspect I wasn’t the only one. The swashbuckling Frenchman ditched the baseball cap and compiled a 42-22 record with one title, making the final of Montreal and progressing to the quarterfinals or better at nine tournaments. It was a strong, workmanlike effort from Gasquet. I think 2013 will be much of the same. Verdict: Hold.
Thoughts on several players outside the top 10:
Juan Monaco (No. 12): He reached a career-high ranking at No. 10 thanks to a semifinal run in Miami and four titles. I don’t think that Masters semifinal is doable next year, but Monaco should stay in the top 20 because of his clay-court prowess. Verdict: Hold.
Milos Raonic (No. 13): It’s easy to get impatient with Raonic’s development. If you heard most fans and analysts talk about his season, you’d think he crashed and burned outside the top 30. In fact, it was another career year for the 21-year-old, and he suffered some tight losses that easily could have gone the other way. Still young and improving, Raonic is a future top-eight player. Verdict: Buy.
John Isner (No. 14): His second half was one to forget, but this is still the guy who defeated Djokovic on hard courts and Federer and Tsonga on clay in 2012. The pressure may have gotten to him, but 2013 is a new slate with a new coach in Michael Sell. Much like Raonic, Isner’s year turned on a handful of close losses, so it’s not like he was getting blown off the court. A few improvements, particularly in the mental game, and he’s back to being buzzworthy. Verdict: Buy.
Marin Cilic (No. 15): Is there anyone on the ATP with a bigger differential between how tall he is and how big he plays? There’s so much promise in the 6-foot-6 Cilic as being another big-hitting Croat, but he insists on playing small, trading groundstrokes from the baseline and refusing to blast. It’s been a while since Cilic had a result that got people talking. Well, unless you want to talk about how he blew a set and 5-1 lead to Murray in the U.S. Open quarterfinals this year. Verdict: Sell.
Kei Nishikori (No. 19): If you have some free time in the next couple of weeks, cue up the highlight reels for all of Nishikori’s matches this year in Tokyo, where he knocked off Raonic, Marcos Baghdatis and Berdych to win his first title in
three four years. What you’ll see is the promise and talent that garnered him the “Special Kei” nickname. The question is whether he can play that kind of tennis, which is reminiscent of Nikolay Davydenko at his best, consistently over the course of a year. If he can stay injury-free, I think he can. Verdict: Buy.
Tommy Haas (No. 21): This time last year Haas was ranked outside the top 200. Now he’s on the verge of the top 20 after upsetting Federer in the Halle final in June and making quarterfinal appearances at two Masters events late in the season. This makes Haas a day trader’s dream. Buy him now and watch his ranking soar in the first five months of the season, but reassess by the time Wimbledon rolls around. He has a lot of points on the table starting then. Verdict: Buy.
Sam Querrey (No. 22): It’s all upside for Querrey, particularly at the start of the season, when he has very little to defend in the first four months. A good string of results through the Australian and North American hard courts could mean he’ll overtake Isner as the American No. 1 in the first half. Verdict: Buy.
Fernando Verdasco (No. 24): Other than his downing of Nadal in Madrid and a few other flashes, 2012 was pretty forgettable for Verdasco. By all accounts, he’s been working hard in the offseason with the Adidas Player Development Program, but he just hasn’t been right mentally for almost two years now. Verdict: Sell.
Thomaz Bellucci (No. 33): The 24-year-old Brazilian has the game to get into the top 20. It’s just about learning to hold his nerve in the crucial moments. Easier said than done, but Bellucci is getting better at it with time. Verdict: Buy.