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Nadal saves 2 match points, advances at China Open

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BEIJING (AP) Rafael Nadal needed to save two match points before advancing to the second round at the China Open.

The top-ranked Spaniard, playing for the first time since winning the U.S. Open title last month, rallied to beat Lucas Pouille 4-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5 Tuesday.

Pouille held two match points while leading 6-4 in the second-set tiebreaker. But Nadal reeled off four straight points to take the set and turn the match around.

“Was a very tough first round, as I say the other day,” said Nadal, who lost to Pouille in five sets at the 2016 U.S. Open. “He played well, I think. Very aggressive. He’s serving well. For me was little bit difficult at the beginning. Then I started to play better, I think.

“But still, I didn’t have the control of the match for almost all the time.”

In the final set, Nadal broke Pouille’s serve to take a 6-5 lead and then served out the match.

Nadal is 57-9 this season and leads the tour with five ATP singles titles, including the French Open. He won the China Open title as a teenager in 2005 and has a 21-5 record in Beijing. He next plays Thursday against Karen Khachanov, who beat Chinese wild-card entry Wu Di.

Earlier, Juan Martin del Potro advanced by beating Pablo Cuevas 7-6 (4), 6-4.

“It was enough to win. I play good in important moments of the match, that’s the tiebreaks and the last game of the second set,” said the 2009 U.S. Open champion, who returned to professional tennis last year after wrist surgery.

Third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, sixth-seeded John Isner, eighth-seeded Nick Kyrgios and Leonardo Mayer also advanced.

In the women’s tournament, Maria Sharapova rallied to defeat Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

“She definitely picked it up in the second. But I felt like although she won that second set, I was really motivated to start the third,” Sharapova said. “I was questioning how I would feel physically, but I felt really good going into the third set.”

The former top-ranked Russian will next face second-seeded Simona Halep on Wednesday.

“We know each other’s games very well. That’s no secret. They’ve always been very challenging, tough, competitive, emotional,” Sharapova said. “Any time you’re able to face an opponent that’s done something and well, it’s great to see where you are and where your level is.”

Halep advanced after Magdalena Rybarikova retired from their match while trailing 6-1, 2-1.

Other winners include Karolina Pliskova, Elena Vesnina, Petra Kvitova, Daria Gavrilova, Sorana Cirstea, Darla Kasatkina and Barbora Strycova.

Sharapova loses to Rybarikova at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

“I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise,” Sharapova said. “Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it.”

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.