Skimming the surfaces: From clay to grass

While all of Great Britain waits with bated breath to learn if long-idle Andy Murray will make his return to Wimbledon in July, let's take a look at the takeaways left in the wake of the long Euroclay season culminating at the French Open.


Serena: 'Right now, I can't actually serve'

Serena Williams expresses her disappointment about a pectoral injury that has forced her to withdraw from the French Open.

Do not write off Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon

Nadal once again dominated the clay circuit, culminating with his 11th French Open win. Move along folks, nothing to see here. However, the King of Clay has struggled in recent years at Wimbledon, while his Big Four peers have shined, which has greatly reduced expectations of Nadal. But Nadal, who now has 17 major titles (three behind Roger Federer) is obviously a man on a mission, still in contention for the all-time Grand Slam singles title record. His confidence after yet another season of dominance on clay has to be sky high again. He's had some truly rotten luck at Wimbledon in recent years, but that could all change come July -- if he plays.

"I would love to be playing in as many places as possible, but you understand I need to check how I feel in the next couple of days," Nadal told reporters following the final. "(It) is a drastic change from clay to grass. I did it in the past when I was much younger, quicker ... but it's time to check how I feel in the next couple of days."

The wide-open WTA just opened wider

Just when it seemed that the women's game had settled into something like predictable unpredictability, some new twists occurred. French Open champion Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens took their games to new heights at Roland Garros while familiar contenders like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova had -- at best -- so-so results.

At the same time, relative youngsters like Daria Kastina, Madison Keys, Caroline Garcia and under-the-radar Elise Mertens and Yulia Putintseva also had good tournaments. Youth is on the move.

Novak Djokovic is in deep trouble

Stunning upsets happen, no one is immune. But the disturbing thing about Novak Djokovic's loss to No. 72 Marco Cecchinato (who had not won a singles match at a major before this French Open) was when it happened and how the Serbian star reacted.

Djokovic was finally getting some traction in his comeback, facing a relatively inexperienced opponent. Their quarterfinal was an enormous opportunity, but Djokovic bungled it in a big, boisterous way -- and then had an emotional meltdown. He held an impromptu, four-and-a-half-minute press conference in the bowels of Suzanne Lenglen stadium (not the customary main press room), culminating with his snappish comment, "I don't know if I'm going to play on grass."

American women are bringing it

The rematch of last year's US Open final between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys was a highlight of the tournament. Keys showed great improvement on clay and will shift to her preferred grass courts brimming with confidence. Stephens has taken enormous strides as a competitor since her return from a debilitating foot injury last July.

"I've won one (Grand Slam) and been in another final in such a short period of time," she said in her post-final presser. "I'm very optimistic and very pleased. ... I'm not satisfied, but I am proud of myself."

Stephens also won legions of fans with her attitude and comments. After losing the final, she said of Halep: "I think she's had a tough journey. I think winning here is very special for her and I'm glad she finally got her first slam. It's a beautiful thing, very special."

The Girls' Final was contested between two Americans, Caty Mcnally and Coco Gauff, who at 14 became the youngest female champion at Roland Garros in 25 years.

Roger Federer will have his hands full on grass

A number of players whose out-sized games will be dangerous on the faster turf waiting at Wimbledon experienced success in the spring. It will make them that much more dangerous in London. Juan Martin del Potro, Alexander Zverev, Karen Khachanov, Kevin Anderson, John Isner and Marin Cilic all made the fourth-round or better in Paris.

Kyle Edmund, who was beaten in Round 3 in a three-and-a-half-hour, five-set war with clay wizard Fabio Fognini, had an excellent spring: finals at Marrakech and the quarters of Madrid as he compiled an 11-5 record. Edmund, a big hitter, is a South African native who now plays for Great Britain. The British fans will give him all the motivation and inspiration he needs. "I'm going in the right direction this year, so people maybe (will) expect me to do better," Edmund told the British press. "I will probably be busier this year, and it will be a new experience."

The future of the Williams sisters is in question

All good things come to an end, even the careers of Venus and Serena Williams. They certainly aren't done yet, but some of the signs are ominous. Venus is an age-defying marvel, but she's still 37. She played well in the big US hard-court events, with a semifinal at Indian Wells and a quarterfinal in Miami. But she went 1-4 on clay, dropping her record in 2018 to 10-7. She's in danger of slipping out of the top 10. Lack of match play has become an issue for her.

Serena came back strong in her return to the competitive game at the French Open, but her comeback was derailed after three rounds, A strained pectoral muscle forced her to issue a walkover to Maria Sharapova. Williams' participation at Wimbledon is uncertain.

Alexander Zverev will be a major threat at Wimbledon

The 21-year-old German sensation, ranked No. 3, has had trouble cracking the Grand Slam code. But he went a dazzling 21-3 on clay this year and, perhaps more important, made the quarterfinals at a major for the first time in his career. The previous best for the 6-foot-6 power server was a fourth round last year at ... Wimbledon.

Good offense is beating good defense

It wasn't so long ago that Djokovic, Nadal, and Andy Murray helped elevate defensive skills to pre-eminence. Nadal remains a unique defensive genius, but all else has changed. Dominic Thiem, the hard-charging French Open finalist, is a baseliner but his intent is purely offensive. Federer, that master of offense, is once again the man to beat on grass. The list of offensive players who did well during the clay swing is another sign that priorities may be changing. Stephens might have been speaking for a growing cohort of players when she said, "I like clay, I like hard court, I like grass. I like them all. I don't really have anything against any of the surfaces. So I'm pretty open to getting on a new surface and playing and having a bit of fun.