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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Sharapova dominates Peng at Tianjin Open to reach first final since doping ban return

Russian former world No 1 was too strong for the Chinese woman and will face Bulgarian Anya Sabalenka in Sunday's final.

Maria Sharapova was last in a WTA Tour final in May 2015 when she won the Italian Open. AFP
Maria Sharapova was last in a WTA Tour final in May 2015 when she won the Italian Open. AFP

Former world No 1 Maria Sharapova has reached her first final since returning from a 15-month doping ban after a 6-3, 6-1 win over local favourite Shuai Peng at the Tianjin Open on Saturday.

Sharapova, 30, has experienced a mixed bag of results since making her comeback in Stuttgart, reaching the semi-finals of the German tournament and the fourth round of the US Open, which included a first round win over now-world No 1 Simona Halep. Those encouraging displays have been offset by successive second round defeats in Madrid, Rome, and Stanford.

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However, the Russian five-time grand slam champion is now back in her first WTA Tour final since winning the Italian Open in May 2015.

Sharapova broke Peng's serve in the first game of the match and would hold her own serve comfortably throughout the opening set.

A second break to take the opener followed as Sharapova continued her dominance to reel off five straight games at the end of the first set and start of the second, racing in to a 3-0 lead. Sharapova survived a wobble on her serve, fending off three break points in the fifth game before earning her second break in the sixth game.

Such is the enduring star power of Sharapova, the Russian claimed much of the support from the Tianjin crowd despite coming up against a Chinese opponent, and she gave them plenty to cheer about.

Sharapova was superior to Peng in every department; her groundstrokes carried more purpose, she served with variation and power, and she was quick around the court to pick off Peng's attempted drop shots with ease.

Indeed, it is clear to see the improvements in Sharapova's speed and athleticism with each passing match.

Sharapova, ranked No 86, will take on world No 102 Anya Sabalenka in Sunday's final after the Bulgairan's 6-1, 6-3 vitory over Italian Sara Errani in the other semi-final.

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