- Matt Wilansky, Tennis editor
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Editor's note: Our weeklong series of "What If …" are hypothetical scenarios only. We understand a matchup of players in different generations comes with its share of things to take into consideration, like the advancement of technology and the slowing of court surfaces in today's game. Some of these head-to-heads have an actual, albeit brief, history, with one player winding down his or her career, thus we're not taking those into consideration. For the sake of this series, we're assuming both parties were playing each other at their peak.It's just for fun, so enjoy and let us know who you think would win.
Matchup: Maria Sharapova versus Martina Hingis
Venue: French Open
Case for Sharapova: She seized her first French Open title in 2012, which is one more than Hingis had in her career. Sharapova's overarching weakness is her shaky second serve, but that does less damage on the slower, granular clay than it does on other surfaces.
Sharapova is a powerful player from both wings, who despite her own doubts, maneuvers well on dirt. In the past couple of years, she has truly -- and unexpectedly -- become a stalwart on the slowest of all the surfaces, reaching yet another French Open final this past June, along with a runner-up trophy in Madrid and a title in Stuttgart. Perhaps the biggest asset for Sharapova, though, is her unwavering desire. Few people would ever consider Sharapova the most gifted player of her generation, but she's maximized every iota of her God-given talents.
There aren't many people she can't bulldoze, especially little people like Hingis. Plus, Sharapova won't back down from anyone -- on court, off court, pressroom, players' lounge. You name it. Her spat of verbal volleys with Serena Williams, and her detachment for, well, almost all players in the upper echelon of the game shows how unaffected she is by anything but her own success.
Case for Hingis: For a good part of her career, Hingis was a giant killer, perhaps the last of her kind. Hingis, who was the top-ranked player for a staggering 209 weeks, had a sweet all-court game and the headstrong personality and confidence to compensate for her underwhelming stature.
This, coupled with her cerebral approach, catapulted Hingis into a five-time Slam winner. And, perhaps, if she hadn't retired about nine times, she would have snagged a couple of more. Hingis has 28 career wins over the Serena-Venus-Davenport trifecta, which include some memorable Slam wins as well.
And despite the fact the French Open was the one Slam venue where Hingis failed to win a title, her guileful game always translated well to clay, reaching at least the semifinals for five straight seasons at Roland Garros (1997-01). And like Sharapova, she's a tough cookie, someone who's not afraid of confrontation. Oh, and she hails from the same country as Roger Federer.
Brad Gilbert verdict: Hingis moves 10 times better than Sharapova. Hingis has more guile and there are more things she could do on clay. She would drop shot Sharapova a ton in this matchup and use her brain. The one thing to watch is the Hingis serve versus the Sharapova return. Could Hingis hold enough to win?
It's a close matchup of speed against power. But on clay, Hingis would win a tight one.
Martina Hingis was smooth and smart. Maria Sharapova is powerful and commanding. At the peak of their careers, who would win this hypothetical French Open matchup?