Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova claimed her first WTA title since her return from a 15-month doping ban when she beat Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to win the Tianjin Open in China on Sunday.
Sharapova earned a hard-fought 7-5 7-6 victory over her 19-year-old Belarusian opponent to win her first title since her return in April of this year, and her first WTA tour victory since May 2015.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion was made to battle hard for the victory, fighting back from 4-1 down in both sets before overcoming the young Belarusian.
After the win, Sharapova said it was a “special” moment considering it had been such a long wait since her last title.
“It is a special title, a special victory,” Sharapova said, wtatennis.com reported.
“It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner’s trophy. It is a great feeling, a team effort,” she added.”You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted.”
Sharapova went into the tournament – for which she was given a wildcard entry – ranked 86th in the world, but now climbs to number 57.
It was the 30-year-old Russian’s 36th WTA tour victory.
Sharapova returned from a doping ban in April of this year, having been suspended after testing positive for banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
The Russian said she had been taking the drug for 10 years on the advice of a family doctor, and had overlooked the fact that it had recently been added to the list of banned substances.
Her initial ban was shortened from two years to 15 months on appeal.
She missed the French Open earlier this year after being refused a wildcard by tournament organizers, and was forced to miss Wimbledon through injury. She was granted a wildcard to the US Open in late August-early September, but went out in the fourth round at the hands of 16th-seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
Sharapova will be boosted by her win in China, and will next turn her sights on her home Kremlin Cup tournament in Moscow, which begins next week.
“I am really looking forward to playing in my home country as the last event of the year,” Sharapova said, according to wtatennis.com
“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.”