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Sharapova crushes Peng to make first final since 2015

By Agencies - Oct 14,2017 - Last updated at Oct 14,2017

Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return against Peng Shuai of China during their women’s singles semifinal match at the WTA Tianjin Open tournament in Tianjin on Saturday (AFP photo)

TIANJIN — Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova crushed Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1 at the Tianjin Open on Saturday to reach her first final since serving a 15-month doping ban.

The 30-year-old Russian, playing on a wildcard in the seventh tournament of her comeback, hit top gear as she swept aside the Chinese third seed in one hour, 18 minutes.

“The finals are the stage that I want to be at and where I want to do well,” Sharapova said. “It has been a long road, so this is very rewarding, but I also know I have another match to play, so as much as I want to be happy and content, I know that I have an ambitious opponent in front of me.” 

In front of a large home crowd, a businesslike Sharapova broke four times and conceded zero breaks of her own before wrapping up the semifinal with a clinical crosscourt forehand.

The Russian broke her Chinese opponent in the opening game and rarely looked troubled on her own serve.

Peng, ranked No. 25 in the world, had no answer to Sharapova’s power hitting from the baseline and gave up another break en route to conceding the first set.

Sharapova, who is yet to drop a set in Tianjin, raced into a 3-0 lead at the start of the second but suffered a brief bout of nerves while serving for the fifth game, when she was forced to save three break points.

The 30-year-old turned the tables on Peng in the very next game, breaking her opponent once again before closing out the contest in 78 minutes.

In Sunday’s final — her first since she won the Italian Open in May 2015 — she will be the red-hot favourite against 102nd-ranked Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who beat qualifier Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3.

“From what I have seen, she is a really good player,” Sharapova said of Sabalenka ahead of the final. “She is hungry, young [and] motivated to be in this stage of the tournament. It very flattering when someone looks up to you, but it also very dangerous because they want that position. They want to be the champion and no matter who you are playing in the final, both of us deserve to be at that stage. I am excited. I am excited that my first final [back] is at this event.”

Sharapova has had a stop-start and injury-hit season since her controversial return at Stuttgart in April, following her ban for using the banned substance meldonium.

The statuesque former World No. 1 reached the Stuttgart semis, but she retired in the Italian Open second round and also withdrew from her second-round match at Stanford.

Sharapova missed Wimbledon qualifying because of injury and she was offered a wildcard to the French Open, but she reached the US Open last 16 on her return to Grand Slam tennis.

She has cut a swathe through the limited draw in Tianjin, only dropping one set so far in her victories over Irina-Camelia Begu, Magda Linette, Stefanie Voegele and Peng.

Sharapova, one of the world’s highest-earning female athletes, will now expect to win her 36th career title and end a trophy drought of more than two years, the longest since her debut win in 2003.

By contrast Sabalenka, 19, is gunning for her first WTA title after a run to the Tianjin final that included wins over China’s Duan Ying-Ying and Lin Zhu.

 

Sharapova, currently ranked 86th, has also been handed a wildcard for next week’s Kremlin Cup in Moscow, which she will play for the first time since 2007.

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