Five-time Grand Slam victor Maria Sharapova was made to fight by 102nd-ranked teenager Aryna Sabalenka at the Tianjin Open Sunday before winning her first title since her 15-month doping ban. But the 30-year-old Russian, who did not drop a set en route to Sunday's final, fought back on each occasion to claim her first title in 29 months.
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, tested positive for a banned substance, meldonium, at the 2016 Australian Open, but that her initial two-year ban from the International Tennis Federation was reduced to 15 months.
In front of a large home crowd, a businesslike Sharapova broke four times and conceded zero breaks of her own before wrapping up the semi-final with a clinical crosscourt forehand.
It was not a trophy to compare to the Italian Open she won in May 2015, but it will still be a huge morale boost to the Russian, whose comeback has been interrupted by injuries that saw her miss Wimbledon.
Sharapova, who won the title without dropping a set, added: "You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted".
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.
The American-raised Sharapova will next play at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.