Sharapova next after Garcia beats Halep to clinch China Open title
Five-time grand slam champion paired with top-seeded Frenchwoman in Tianjin Open opener
Unseeded Caroline Garcia of France won her second title in as many weeks as she stunned new world No 1 Simona Halep in the closely-fought final of the China Open on Sunday.
Garcia is in the form of her life and edged out the Romanian second seed 6-4, 7-6 to add the China Open to the Wuhan Open title she lifted last weekend, making it five WTA crowns in all.
Next up for her is Maria Sharapova when they meet in the first round of the Tianjin Open, where Sharapova has been granted a wild card.
Sharapova, who had endured a stop-start comeback from a 15-month doping ban, is now ranked a lowly 104 in the world, and could hardly have a harder opponent.
However, 15th-ranked Garcia has been carrying a thigh injury and combined with her winning the China, she could yet choose to skip Tianjin.
Most focus will be on Sharapova, 30, who has struggled for top form and fitness since returning to tennis in April following her suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.
She fell in the third round at the China Open to Halep, who was confirmed as No 1 for the first time on Monday.
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Garcia's feat was all the more remarkable because she was carrying a leg injury that has required frequent on-court treatment and completed a mammoth three-set quarter-final win well past midnight on Friday evening.
The 23-year-old player, who is set to rise from No 15 to nine in the world, sank to her knees in relief on the hard court when she finally sealed victory in the second-set tie break.
With rain teeming down outside ahead of what turned out to be a cracker, a leak in the Diamond Court stadium roof had threatened to dampen proceedings.
But that was soon fixed and there was little between the two players until Garcia broke Halep in the 10th game to grab the first set.
Halep, 26, had the superior mobility - Garcia had her right thigh strapped - but the French player was making the better shots.
One forehand winner was greeted with gasps from the mostly full arena in Beijing.
The second set was even more competitive and the attritional seventh game turned out to be a turning point.
Garcia was 0-40 down on her own serve until dragging it to 40-40 and then saving half a dozen break points before somehow winning the game to go 4-3 up.
The duo raced into the tie break, but Garcia now had the momentum and she held her nerve to make it a famous Wuhan-Beijing double.
Despite her disappointment Halep will officially become world number one for the first time when the latest rankings are out on Monday.
Updated: October 8, 2017 06:00 PM