Maria Sharapova defeated Aryna Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday and clinch her first WTA title since returning from a drug ban. The five-time Grand Slam champion, a tournament wild card, overcame a first-set deficit to beat the Belarusian teenager and celebrate her first title since she won the Italian Open in May 2015.
Sharapova served a 15-month ban after she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium. The former world No. 1 was denied a wild card for the French Open before missing Wimbledon because of injury. She was granted a wild card for the US Open and reached the fourth round before losing to Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.
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The 30-year-old Russian was playing her seventh event since she returned to the tour in April from a 15-month drug ban. She trailed 4-1 in both sets before overcoming the 19-year-old Belarusian, who was contesting her first WTA final, in two hours and five minutes.
The result means Sharapova moves up to number 57 in the world rankings. The five-time grand slam champion said the Tianjin title, the 36th of her career, was special.
“It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner’s trophy. It is a great feeling,” she said. “When you start all the way from the beginning of the tournament and then you end up playing the final in a full stadium with so much enthusiasm and energy and you are the one that wins the last point, just everything falls into place”.
“You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted.”
The five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova is looking forward to building on the success in Moscow at the Kremlin Cup, a tournament she has not appeared at since 2007.