The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - SPORTS -

Maria Sharapova equaled her best per­for­mance since re­turn­ing from a dop­ing sus­pen­sion as she breezed into the Tian­jin Open semi­fi­nals Fri­day. The Rus­sian eas­ily de­feated Swiss qual­i­fier Ste­fanie Voegele 6-3, 6-1 in 64 min­utes and the for­mer world No. 1 will face China’s Peng Shuai in the last four. Sharapova re­turned in April from a 15-month sus­pen­sion for tak­ing the banned sub­stance mel­do­nium. In her first tour­na­ment back, in Stuttgart, she made it to the semi­fi­nals but has been un­able to re­peat that feat again, un­til now. The 30-year-old, ranked 86 in the world, was granted a wild­card for Tian­jin be­cause her rank­ing was too low. “Ob­vi­ously she re­ally likes play­ing here and is the de­fend­ing cham­pion so she feels re­ally good about the court and the at­mos­phere,” Sharapova said of Peng, ac­cord­ing to a re­port on the WTA web­site. “We haven’t played in a long time and I know that it will be a tough match, just be­cause it’s the semi­fi­nals and when you get to the lat­ter stages it’s not get­ting eas­ier. “She re­ally likes play­ing here and is play­ing well, and I hope to rise to the oc­ca­sion,” added Sharapova, yet to drop a set in three matches in Tian­jin. Peng, the third seed and reign­ing Tian­jin cham­pion, will of­fer a far sterner test than 196ranked Voegele. Sharapova and Peng have played one another six times be­fore, with the Rus­sian win­ning five of the meet­ings. Home hope Peng thrashed Spain’s Sara Sor­ribes Tormo 6-0, 6-1 in their quar­ter­fi­nal.

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