Maria Sharapova has won her first title since returning from a doping ban after defeating young Belarusian talent Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 7-6 in a topsy turvy final.
Sharapova recovered from 1-4 in the first set and 1-5 in the second – where she saved set points – to take the crown in China. The final served as a fitting end to Sharapova’s dramatic return from her infamous ban, while it was a cruel introduction to a tour final for the 19 year old Belarusian.
Victory in China was Sharapova’s first title since May 2015 and a first on the hard courts since January of the same year. Sharapova had served for the match at 6-5, before hitting a double fault to send the second set into a tie-break following relentless pressure from her young opponent.
Showing her nerves, Sharapova’s double faults continued at crucial points – including at 5-4 in the tie break – and failed to serve it out at 7-6. However, the Russian took her fourth match point on serve to win the tie break 10-8, winning the final in 2 hours 6 minutes.
Dubbed the future Victoria Azarenka, Sunday’s defeat will take a lot to get over for Sabalenka, who must now recoup ahead of next month’s Fed Cup final. Sabalenka could, and perhaps should, have won the match in straight sets after seeing two commanding leads in both sets slip away against a ruthless and determined Sharapova.
It’s clear to see the potential in Sabalenka, who has had a fantastic year in what has been a great season for Belarusian tennis. Her run in Tianjin will send the 19 year old up the rankings to a new career high of 76.
Sharapova, meanwhile, heads to Moscow as a top 60 player following her run in Tianjin, and will be looking to make it back-to-back titles in Russia.