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Sharapova gets red-hot Garcia in tough Tianjin opener

Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return during her women’s singles match against Simona Halep of Romania at the China Open in Beijing on October 4, 2017. © AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI

BEIJING, China, Oct 8Maria Sharapova’s stop-start comeback from a 15-month doping ban takes her to the Chinese city of Tianjin this week and a tough draw against France’s on-form Caroline Garcia.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former number one from Russia has been paired with top seed Garcia in her opener at the Tianjin Open, where she was granted a wildcard.

However, 15th-ranked Garcia has been carrying a thigh injury and combined with her reaching Sunday’s final of the China Open, she could yet choose to skip Tianjin.

Sharapova, now ranked a lowly 104 in the world, could hardly have a harder opponent.

Garcia is in the form of her life, winning the Wuhan Open last weekend and later Sunday playing new number one Simona Halep in the final in Beijing.

Also taking part in Tianjin, which is near the Chinese capital, is the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

But as usual, most focus will be on the 30-year-old Sharapova, who has struggled for top form and fitness since returning to tennis in April following her suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.

She fell in the third round at the China Open to Halep, who will be confirmed as number one for the first time on Monday.

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