Convicted doper Maria Sharapova won her first title in more than two years on Sunday, defeating unheralded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 7-5, 7-6(8) in the final of the Tianjin Open.
“It is a special title, a special victory,” Sharapova said after beating one player ranked in the Top 25 during the week. “It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner’s trophy. It is a great feeling, a team effort.”
Her last title was at Rome in 2015.
Sabalenka will debut in the Top 100 after reaching the first final of her career.
The American-raised Sharapova will next play at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
“I am really looking forward to playing in my home country as the last event of the year,” said Sharapova. “Obviously coming there with the title already means a lot, but I do really want to finish strong, even though it is a very fast turnaround, and I don’t remember the last time that I played three events in a row. But I will give it everything I have got and I know I have so many amazing fans there.”
Sharapova was stretched in each set by the little-known teenager, who led by a break in both sets.
Sharapova improved to 36-23 in career finals.
Sabalenka, who as of Sunday had no photo and no bio info on the WTA website, beat Chinese players in the first three rounds then a qualifier in the semifinals. Prior to Wimbledon she played primarily ITF events, and lost in the qualifying of three of the four Grand Slams this year.
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