WTA Tianjin: Maria Sharapova storms past Peng Shuai in clinical display

Wildcard Maria Sharapova continued to storm through the draw at the Tianjin Open, defeating Peng Shuai in the semifinals as she progressed to the first final of her comeback.

WTA Tianjin: Maria Sharapova storms past Peng Shuai in clinical display
Maria Sharapova proceeds to the 59th WTA final of her career | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Maria Sharapova
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Peng Shuai

Maria Sharapova reached her first WTA final of her comeback, and her first since the 2015 Internazionali BNL D’Italia after defeating the third seed and home favourite Peng Shuai in the semifinals of the Tianjin Open, powering her way through to the final without losing a set along the way, making it four consecutive straight-sets victories for the Russian. Sharapova continued to look formidable on her first serve, ousting the defending champion in just an hour and 20 minutes.

Maria Sharapova and Peng Shuai meets for a warm handshake at the net after the match | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Maria Sharapova and Peng Shuai meets for a warm handshake at the net after the match | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Sharapova comes out firing

For the first time this week, Sharapova started the match on the return as Peng elected to serve in the opening game. That risky decision proved to backfire for the Chinese as the Russian came into the match firing, coming up with some world-class aggressive play to break serve after Peng sent a drop shot directly into the net. Sharapova had to overcome her early rustiness on her serve, producing clutch forehands on the important points and hitting an incredible drop shot winner to consolidate the break for a 2-0 lead.

Maria Sharapova in action at the Tianjin Open | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Maria Sharapova in action at the Tianjin Open | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

The Russian seals the first set

Peng finally managed to find her groove and her solid serving was enough to get her onto the scoreboard as she played her opponent around with her variety of shots. However, the crowd favorite was still not able to find any answers to Sharapova’s brutal serving as the Russian proceeded on to just lose three points on her serve in the remainder of the set. Serving to stay in the set at 3-5, Peng threw in a couple of unforced errors and within a blink of an eye, the first set ended 6-3 in Sharapova’s favor after 42 minutes.

Sharapova rides on momentum

That first serve of Sharapova was completely lethal, with Peng only able to win just one point off it throughout the first set. Carrying over the momentum to the second set, the Russian began with a comfortable hold to 15 before prevailing in a marathon 14-point game which saw her convert her fourth break point in the game after Sharapova hit a winner off a Peng drop shot.

Maria Sharapova hits a backhand at the Tianjin Open | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Maria Sharapova hits a backhand at the Tianjin Open | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Peng threatens to fight back

The victory looked all to be Sharapova’s when she easily consolidated the break for a 3-0 lead in the set and was just a mere three games away from the win. However, that was the pivotal turning point as Peng started to find the rhythm on her serve, first getting on the scoreboard with a confident service hold.

The Chinese was finally able to threaten Sharapova on her serve and even managed to earn three break points in the fifth game. Nonetheless, the Russian fended off all of them with clutch forehand winners, holding onto her lead and edge closer to the win.

Peng Shuai serves at the Tianjin Open | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Peng Shuai serves at the Tianjin Open | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Sharapova claims the impressive win

From there, the disappointment of not being able to capitalize on her opportunities started to kick in for Peng, who lost the plot as she was broken yet again in the next game which allowed Sharapova to own a commanding 5-1 lead. Ultimately, the former world number one and five-time Grand Slam champion successfully served out the match for a place in the final, where she would face Aryna Sabalenka, who defeated Sara Errani earlier in the day.