ATP Buy/Sell/Hold: Expect shuffling, perhaps shakeup, among top four

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Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic finished at No. 1 for the second straight year. (Erick W. Rasco/SI)

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. 

2013 Preview: WTA Buy, sell, holdRankings risers, sliders | Players under pressure | Del Potro in top four?

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

Tomas Berdych is still looking for his first major title after reaching the 2010 Wimbledon final. (Carlos M. Saavedra/SI)

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. 

  • Published On Dec 18, 2012

    You are pretty laughable, Pandy.  You are just as delusional as those you attack.  Federer is the one who is dedicated to the Players Council and looks out for ALL players, unlike your boy Nadal.  Nadal was the one who was only looking out for himself with things like a 2-year ranking system, and he's the one that QUIT the players council when other players wouldn't agree with him.  He couldn't even see his term through.  That's pathetic.  As for DC, Fed is the one that played DC this year, not Nadal, not Djokovic, and not Murray.  Nadal is hardly the DC stalwart for Spain... Ferrer is.  Nadal rarely plays DC unless it's on clay and at home.  And there are plenty of players who only play DC or FC because of the Olympics. 


    You are just upset that Roger's GOATness is already cemented.  So what if Nadal enjoys a match-up advantage with Fed?  All players have matchup issues with different players.  But poor Nadal has to play other guys and not just guys he has an match-up advantage with (like Fed), which is why Nadal's numbers aren't anywhere near Fed's and never will be.  No one has all the stats, nor should they.  But Fed has many of them, well more than your boy Nadal. 


    Michael9 is obviously a delusional Fed fan.

    You don't have to worry about Federer spending too much time on the players council. He has never given much thought to any player except himself. However after the incident at the Australian Open where he was accused of doing nothing for the Players, he realized his image could be dented. All he did thereafter was to be the spokesperson for the players at the ATP meetings which even in the past he was regularly attending being the president (except that now he opens his mouth). He did not work on the issues. So from where did you get that bit about his spending so much time on players' issues?

    The only reason he even played some Davis cup matches was to get to Olympics to win a gold.

    He spends time only on one thing: building his GOAT legacy. Unfortunately, no matter what he does there will always being a question mark with his inability to get the better of Nadal.

    Now he has declared his intention of winning 2 slams and ending the year at no. 1. No doubt ATP and his sponsors would be working hard to give him convenient schedules and draws even more than they did in 2012 when they focused on Wimbledon and Olympics.

    So cheer up Michael, your fave spends all his time on himself and his image and he has the backing of the establishment to make another big run this year..

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    Hard to dispute these, except for maybe Isner. I love big John and would love to see him move back into the top 10 and even higher. But it's hard for a player when you're always a couple broken service games away from a loss. There is constant pressure to hold. Hopefully he will kick his return game up a notch to take the pressure off of his serve. I'm pulling for Isner, Tsonga and Murray big in 2013, which could mean a lot of white knucklers and frustration.


    For Nishikori, it should be his first title in over 4-1/2 years as his maiden title was in Feb 2008; not three years.


    Federer’s reduced schedule could be ‘less if more’: he could increase his total titles won and rankings points won IF he invests the freed time into effective training blocks throughout the year to better prepare him for his 15 events in 2013. Roger has said that he chose the reduced schedule for this purpose, since he did not have the time to implement proper training blocks in 2012. If Federer does this, then he is likely to maximize his returns from less tournaments played. However, if Federer uses the freed time for more vacations, ATP Player Council work, etc. – instead of effective training and practice – then his ranking and total titles won will probably drop.


    Let’s examine the facts:


    Federer did not need a heavy schedule to recapture the No. 1 ranking this year: Federer’s 11,075 points after 2012 Wimbledon came mostly from 13 of the 17 events Federer played in the 52 weeks between 2011 Canada and 2012 Wimbledon (Federer made only 315 countable points from 4 events 2011 Canada, 2011 Cincinnati, 2012 Doha, 2012 Miami – the bulk of his points came from 13 events).


    Federer won 10,265 points from the 17 ATP events he played in 2012.


    Federer won only 795 countable points from the four 2012 events that he is not playing in 2013: (non-countable Davis Cup 25 pts), Doha (non-countable 90 pts), Miami (45 pts), Olympics (450 pts), Basel (300 pts). The loss of these four events worth only 795 countable points should be more than offset by the maximum 2,000 countable points from Federer playing Canada Masters and Paris Masters (which he did not play in 2012).


    Federer has the potential to win a maximum of 17,750 points from the 15 events below he is scheduled to play in 2013 (assuming he qualifies for WTF): Australian Open, Rotterdam 500, Dubai 500, Indian Wells Masters, Madrid Masters, Rome Masters, French Open, Halle 250, Wimbledon, Canada Masters [1,000 pts sacrificed in 2012, DNP], Cincinnati Masters, US Open, Shanghai Masters, Paris Masters [1,000 pts sacrificed in 2012, DNP], ATP World Tour Finals. Note: Federer can choose to add more events to his 2013 schedule such as Beijing/Tokyo (500 pts), Basel/Valencia (500 pts) or Monte Carlo Masters (1,000 pts).


    Since Federer made 10,265 points from his 2012 events, Federer has the potential to make up to 7,485 extra points (17,750 – 10,265) from his 2013 schedule. In other words, it remains possible for Federer to recapture the No. 1 ranking in 2013 – if he focuses on training, practice and performing his best in the 15 events he’s playing, and doesn’t waste too much time on the ATP Player Council (like he did throughout 2012) and extra-long vacations (like he did after winning Wimbledon, and paid the price at the Olympics).


    Federer not playing Davis Cup in 2013 (Djokovic, Nadal, Murray did not play Davis Cup in 2012 to focus on the ATP Tour) will give Roger a big advantage in 2013 that he did not have in 2012: Federer can rest and recover properly after 2013 Australian Open and after 2013 US Open and, in the case of the post US Open, implement a proper training block and play Beijing/Tokyo.


    (My prediction: certain tennis writers will try to pressure Federer to play Davis Cup – while remaining silent when Djokovic, Nadal, Murray skip/underplay Davs Cup next year – in order to disadvantage Federer in the ATP Tour given that the three younger guns will have a harder time succeeding in the ATP Tour if they return to playing Davis Cup next year. ]



    You put Federer in the same category as Gasquet and Tsonga?  What are you thinking?



    He has never given much thought to any player except himself. However after the incident at the Australian Open where he was accused of doing nothing for the Players, he realized his image could be dented. All he did thereafter was to be the spokesperson for the players at the ATP meetings which even in the past he was regularly attending being the president (except that now he opens his mouth). He did not work on the issues. So from where did you get that bit about his spending so much time on players' issues?'


    Ofcourse thats why he has been voted the president of the council for the THIRD time by the players. I also suppose that the journalist who reported about the increase of price money at slam and credited some players inc. federer to make it happen lied just to make roger look good, right?


    'The only reason he even played some Davis cup matches was to get to Olympics to win a gold.'


    Then why has he played it alot more times then was required of him?


    'He spends time only on one thing: building his GOAT legacy. Unfortunately, no matter what he does there will always being a question mark with his inability to get the better of Nadal.'


    Unfortunately for you, Federer is already considered the GOAT, even better he is considered one of the best sportsman of all time(!!!)


    'Now he has declared his intention of winning 2 slams and ending the year at no. 1. No doubt ATP and his sponsors would be working hard to give him convenient schedules and draws even more than they did in 2012 when they focused on Wimbledon and Olympics.'


    Ah a conspiray theory. Seriously how old are you?


    It's funny how you want to accuse Micheal9 of being delusional, when that clearly applies to you. Atleast he comes with facts to support his claims unlike you who just baselessly rants at the 'evil' that is federer.


     @pandy    It's actually far more logical to state that pandy 'is obviously a delusional Federer hater' based on the facts:


    It’s totally wrong to claim “The only reason (Federer) even played some Davis cup matches was to get to Olympics to win a gold.”


    The ITF’s qualification criteria for Olympics is the player must “have made themselves available for selection to represent their country in Davis Cup or Fed Cup for two of the following years - 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 - provided one of those years is 2011 or 2012.”


    Federer played Davis Cup in Italy after losing the 2009 US Open final, despite being reportedly injured (as a consequence, this was the only tie since 1999 in which Federer did not play doubles, but he won both his singles matches to win the tie for Switzerland).


    Since Federer played one Davis Cup tie in 2009, he needed just one more tie in 2011 or 2012 to qualify for Olympics. Federer thus qualified in July 2011 when he stepped on the court for his first singles match against Portugal.


    - Why did Federer play four Davis Cup ties in 2011-2012, given that he needed to play  (or make himself available for) only one tie in 2011 or 2012 to qualify for Olympics? As well, Federer played the maximum number of ‘live rubbers’in all four Davis Cup ties.


    - Why did Federer play Davis Cup in Netherlands in September 2012 on wet clay in the middle of the hardcourt season AFTER the Olympics was over? Playing that tie partly contributed to the loss of his No. 1 ranking.


    - Why did Federer play Davis Cup in Australia in September 2011 – involving a 41-hour, 35,000 km trip (NY-Dubai-Sydney-Dubai) and several days of jetlag – on a grass court in the middle of the hardcourt season, after he had qualified for the Olympics? (Note: Nadal, in his career, has never played a Davis Cup tie outside Europe. The furthest Djokovic has traveled for a Davis Cup tie is to Israel, a 2.5 hour, 1,900 km flight. On the other hand, Federer has played two Davis Cup ties in Australia -- 2003, 2011).


    - Why did Federer play Davis Cup against USA in February 2012 on clay in the middle of the hardcourt season – especially given that he had already qualified for the Olympics?


    In 2011 and 2012, Federer did not even need to play a match – he simply needed to make himself available for selection to the Swiss Davis Cup team for one tie. Federer could have instructed his Davis Cup team captain Severin Luthi (also his personal coach) to not select him.


    Or Federer could have done what Djokovic did in 2011 – theatrically retire midway in a match claiming to be injured and have a physio wrap his back on top of his t-shirt. A few days after dramatically screaming in ‘pain’, Djokovic magically recovered to play football/soccer.


    Djokovic lost all five sets of Davis Cup he played in 2011, yet qualified for the 2012 Olympics because he stepped on court in 2011.


     @Valentino  @pandy    Pandy's conspiracy theory is that the ATP and Federer's sponsors fixed his matches. Fact: in every Grand Slam and Masters event this year Federer was drawn with one of the Big Four in his half -- expect for Olympics and Cincinnati. At Wimbledon Federer got Djokovic in the semifinal and Murray in the final.


    The majority of players believe Federer – as ATP Player Council president – has worked on the issues, done a lot for the players, and met their expectations. That’s why, in three consecutive elections (2008, 2010, 2012), the players voted for Federer to serve on the Player Council (after each election, the elected players voted to appoint Federer council president). In addition, the players also voted Federer to receive the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award in a record seven of the past eight years. Federer engenders unprecedented trust and respect of players.


    Federer led the ATP Tour Player Council as president the last five years since the players first elected him to the council in 2008. If “Federer has never given much thought to any player except himself”, he would not have wasted his time on the council. Before Federer, no current/former No. 1 player was willing to sacrifice his ATP Tour goals to lead the player council. When Federer completes his third two-year term in 2014, only Todd Martin would have served longer as president (Federer will tie Martin’s 8 years if he runs for a fourth term).


    Contrary to pandy's misconception, Federer is more than just a “spokesperson for the players at the ATP meetings.” The Player Council president performs multi-faceted roles similar to a part-time player’s union leader. In other major pro sports, the time-consuming role of pay negotiations is handled by a full-time player’s association executive director, not by an active top player. This year Federer spent a lot of time working on the issues as well as used his personal reputation, connections and influence with the Grand Slams to negotiate unprecedented prize money increases for all players. This news report briefly describes some of the things Federer did during 2012 Shanghai Masters (which is what he also did during most of the other Grand Slam and Masters events where tennis stakeholders congregate): ‘Take his pre-tournament schedule last month at the Masters event in Shanghai. Under added security because of death threats, Federer arrived on a Friday and discussed strategy with ATP player and board representatives till about 1 a.m. He practiced the next morning, spent about 7 hours in meetings with various representatives of the Grand Slams and still attended the player party Saturday night. On Sunday evening, he hosted three hours of meetings in his hotel room with the Player Council, ATP executive staff, and U.S. Open executives -- all before he struck a match ball. "Roger has so many demands on his schedule and the fact that he is investing so much time into the player council and these negotiations shows his character and how much he cares for the future of the sport," doubles specialist and council member Eric Butorac of the USA wrote in a recent email. "I believe it is very unprecedented to have a top player so involved." ’


    At the Australian Open, only about three players were reported to have accused Federer “of doing nothing for the players” – most notably Nadal tried to use public pressure to force Federer to support the Spaniard's self serving agenda that would benefit him: a shorter season (to support his physical style of play); world rankings based on a two-year system (which benefits incumbent top players like Nadal); selection of new ATP CEO (Nadal pushed for his candidate). Since Federer’s authority as president comes from the Player Council, Federer cannot operate against the consensus of the majority of the council – in other words, the majority of the Player Council probably did not agree with Nadal’s demands. So Nadal was really unhappy that Federer had not done everything that Nadal demanded. Instead of resolving his disagrements behind the closed doors of the council, Nadal (who was then Player Council vice-president) acted unprofessionally when he publicized his dissent to the news media.  In any case, Nadal already has some flexibility to make his own schedule to give him the workload he wants: in 2013, Nadal will play mostly tournaments he chooses, just like he has done in other years. Despite whining about being overloaded by tennis, Nadal has chosen to schedule at least two lucrative hardcourt exhibition events in end December (AbuDhabi) and in early March (New York) -- and in the past Nadal has played doubles on non-clay tournaments even while claiming to be injured.


    Nadal did not campaign or show interest in what the majority of players really wanted: increased amount and re-distribution of prize money at the Grand Slam championships – which was the issue that Federer, in his own effective way, ultimately made happen. Such big changes in prize money could not have happened without Federer’s involvement -- the ATP had been unsuccessfully trying for many decades to achieve similar changes.


    Finally, you're right that "Federer is already considered the GOAT of tennis and one of the best sportsman of all time.  Uncle Toni (Nadal’s coach) does not obsess on Nadal's H2H with Fed:  "This is true: Federer is better than Rafael because the titles say so.... Although Rafa has a favorable (head-to-head) history, it does not mean much. Rafa has an unfavorable history against (Nikolay) Davydenko and is much better than him... Federer is the player who could play better tennis."  In the ATP World Tour, the primary goal is to dominate the overall field of competition by winning big titles (grand slams and world tour finals) as well as by achieving the highest ranking. The ATP Tour is not measured by head-to-head results (unlike the pre-open days of pro tennis before May 1968).