How well and how quickly can the game’s best transition from clay to grass? With Wimbledon set to begin on June 23, we take stock of the men and women who made the quarterfinals or better at the French Open to determine which players to buy, sell and hold.
Rafael Nadal: Sell. The French Open champion crashed out of the Gerry Weber Open to No. 85 Dustin Brown in his opening round, which was no surprise or cause for panic after the quick turnaround from Roland Garros. But the 28-year-old Spaniard has now lost his last three matches on grass dating to his stunning second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in 2012. Nadal could win Wimbledon for the third time — I wouldn’t bet against it — but so much of it is draw dependent. Given his vulnerability in the early rounds, I’d either hold him for the short term or sell him for the long term. It’s just a matter of time before he relinquishes the No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic, and he has winner’s points to defend at Canada, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open over the summer.
Maria Sharapova: Hold. Because she won her maiden Grand Slam title at 17 by beating Serena Williams on the Wimbledon grass, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Sharapova is a force on faster surfaces. But since that victory, in 2004, she’s reached only one Wimbledon final, losing to Petra Kvitova in 2011. In fact, she’s advanced past the fourth round just once since 2006. Her serve is no longer a weapon on grass — in fact, it’s a liability — and I’m inclined to sell her now and reassess after the U.S. Open, where, again, she hasn’t made a final since she won it in 2006. That said, she has just one match win to defend for the rest of the season, and she lost in the second round of Wimbledon last year. So if you’re looking to capitalize on a rankings jump, hold for the rest of the season.
Novak Djokovic: Buy. The Serb rebounded well after his disappointing loss to Nadal in the French Open semifinals last year, making the Wimbledon final and losing to Andy Murray. I expect him to do the same this year. His defending is impeccable on grass, and if not for that draining five-set win over Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals last year, who knows what would have happened in the final? Djokovic, 27, feels due for a Slam win, having falling short in the last five.
Simona Halep: Hold. Halep has no Wimbledon results to speak of: She’s never even advanced to the third round in three attempts. But she had never surpassed the second round of Roland Garros before this year either, when she coasted to the final. The new No. 3 has won a title on grass (last year in Rosmalen, the Netherlands), and her high seeding could give her some cushion against easier opposition through the early rounds. But her serve is attackable, and if she pulls a nightmare draw against a zoning offensive-minded player, she could lose early.
Andy Murray: Hold. It’s hard to know how Murray will handle the pressure of defending his Wimbledon title. Add to that the potential distraction of having to answer question after question about new coach Amelie Mauresmo. After his run to the semifinals of the French Open, I’m assuming that his “price” is pretty high, so I’d hold him and see how it turns out. Looking more long term, Murray is definitely a buy. Sure, he has a massive amount of points to defend at Wimbledon, but he didn’t do much after winning the title last year. The rest of the season is a big opportunity for him to pick up points.
Eugenie Bouchard: Hold. The 12th-ranked Bouchard is the only woman to make the semifinals of both majors this year, and she’s not allergic to grass. She won the junior Wimbledon title only two years ago, and her first significant Slam success came last year at the All England Club, where she knocked out Ana Ivanovic in the second round. In many ways, the 20-year-old Bouchard is still an unknown quantity. We simply don’t have a complete data set on a player who is in her second full year on tour. But Bouchard has shown she can handle the big occasion well, and she’ll benefit from a higher seeding.
Ernests Gulbis: Buy. I’m going out on a limb here. Gulbis is a high-risk buy given his lack of success on grass — he lost to Kenny De Schepper in his opening round of Queen’s this week — and his loopy forehand should, theoretically, be a disaster on the surface. All that is balanced against his booming serve, deft touch and the fact that he’s a completely different player now compared to the one in years past. If he receives a good draw, he could be this year’s Jerzy Janowicz. In the long term, he’s in good position to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals, sitting at No. 7 in the Race to London standings. He’s on the rise.
Andrea Petkovic: Sell. Petkovic would tell you herself to sell. Grass is her least favorite surface by far, though she did play better last year, when she lost to Sloane Stephens 8-6 in the third set of the Wimbledon second round. Still, considering her high value coming out of the French Open, where she made her first major semifinal, it would be best to take the profit now and reassess midsummer.
David Ferrer: Sell. He’s been a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in each of the last two years, but his weak tap-out to Nadal in the quarterfinals of the French Open was worrisome.
Garbine Muguruza: Buy. Despite the flag flying next to her name, the Spaniard’s game is built for the hard courts and is well suited for grass as well. The 20-year-old played her first Wimbledon main draw last year, when she lost in the second round. She’ll be seeded this year after climbing to No. 27 following her quarterfinal appearance at the French Open, so expect her to improve on the 2013 result. Then the tour returns this summer to her best surface, where her big game should continue to do damage. She’s a “buy” all the way.
Gael Monfils: Sell. He’s never advanced past the third round of Wimbledon. The day Monfils finally decides to abandon his defensive stance and take big cuts at the ball on the baseline is the day I buy him on grass.
Milos Raonic: Buy. This is another Gulbis-like buy. Raonic hasn’t done much on grass — he’s lost in the second round of Wimbledon in each of the last three years — which doesn’t make much sense given his huge serve. He can struggle to break serve, but he’s shown this season that his baseline game has improved, as has his volleying. He’s in line for a top eight seeding at Wimbledon, which should help too.
Tomas Berdych: Buy. The 2010 finalist has played pretty well this season and he’s made the fourth round or better at Wimbledon in four of the last five years. His powerful game is perfectly suited for the surface. Berdych underperformed at the French Open, where he lost meekly to Gulbis in the quarterfinals.
Sara Errani: Sell. She’s never been to the fourth round at Wimbledon in six tries, and if you watched her 6-2, 6-2 loss to Petkovic in the French Open quarterfinals, you saw why. Petkovic destroyed the Errani serve on clay by standing well inside the baseline even for her first serve, which was rolled in at less than 90 mph. Errani is also firmly outside the top 10 now — the Italian is No. 14 — which means she won’t get much protection based on her seeding.
Carla Suarez Navarro: Sell. She’s capable of grass-court success, having reached the fourth round of Wimbledon last year in a career-best result. The biggest question is whether Suarez Navarro can rebound from her incredible collapse against Bouchard in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Never known for her competitive instincts, Suarez Navarro had a 5-2 lead in the first set and a 4-1 lead in the third set but lost both.
Svetlana Kuznetsova: Sell. Defense doesn’t get you far on grass. Players have to pick their spots to be aggressive, and I just don’t think Kuznetsova can do that. She made the quarterfinals in Paris by out-defending the bigger hitters, and then was carved up by Halep. It’s also been six years since she’s reached the quarterfinals at the All England Club.