Maria Sharapova ended a victory drought of more than two years Sunday by posting a 7-5, 7-6 (8) victory over upstart Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in the championship match of the Tianjin Open in China.
The 30-year-old Russian hadn't won a tournament since beating Carla Suarez Navarro in the 2015 Italian Open in Rome, several months prior to her 15-month suspension for using the banned drug meldonium.
The 19-year-old Sabalenka held a 5-1 lead in the second set before Sharapova rallied. An emotional Sharapova fell to her knees behind the baseline after prevailing 10-8 by winning on her fourth match point of the tiebreaker.
"It is a special title, a special victory," Sharapova told reporters after the match. "It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner's trophy. It is a great feeling, a team effort.
"When you start all the way from the beginning of the tournament, and it was so cold and not as many spectators, and then you end up playing the final in a full stadium with so much enthusiasm and energy and you are the one that wins the last point, just everything falls into place. You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted."
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, was a tournament wild card and won the title without dropping a set. She delivered six aces in winning her 36th career singles title in two hours, five minutes.
Sharapova will try to keep her winning streak going next week as she will attempt to win the Kremlin Cup in Russia.
"I am really looking forward to playing in my home country as the last event of the year," Sharapova said. "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."
The WTA finals appearance was the first of Sabalenka's career.