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Sharapova edges past Sabalenka to win Tianjin Open

media The Tianjin Open was Maria Sharapova's first title since returning from a 15 month drugs ban to the WTA circuit in April 2017. Reuters/Stringer

Maria Sharapova won her first singles title in more than two years after beating Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus 7-5 7-6 to take the Tianjin Open on Sunday. Sharapova recovered from deficits in both sets to see off Sabalenka who was contesting her final on the senior WTA tour.

As a result of her labours in China, Sabalenka, 19, will enter the top 100 for the first time.

At 30, Sharapova is a veteran. And after suffering the humiliation of a 15 month suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium, the former world number one hoisted aloft her first crown since the Italian Open in May 2015. It was the 36th trophy of a career that has included titles at all the Grand Slam venues of Melbourne, Paris, London and New York.

“This is a very special victory for me,” said the Russian after the two hour match. “I will remember it always. Sometimes you don’t know when everything will come together. They all came together this week for me here.”

Sharapova had to dig deep into her seam of experience. She trailed 1-4 in the first set, got back on level terms and broke her opponent to lead 6-5 and served out to take the first set in just under an hour.

The second set comeback was more remarkable. Sabalenka led 5-1 but fluffed that chance to serve out. And after Sharapova held her serve to cut the deficit to 5-3, Sabalenka again failed to seal the set on her own serve. The teenager also squandered a set point when Sharapova served at 4-5 down.

Having been reeled in to 5-5, it was unsurprising that Sabalenka lost her serve again. Sharapova, serving at 6-5 up, reached match point but floundered before dropping her serve to send the second set into a tiebreak. Sharapova clinched it 10 points to eight.


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