86th-ranked Maria Sharapova made an impressive start to the Tianjin Open after recently returning from a 15-month doping ban. AFP Photo

TIANJIN: Maria Sharapova made an impressive start to the Tianjin Open on Wednesday, beating Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu in straight sets.

Seeded ninth, Begu loomed as a tricky first-round opponent for Sharapova, but the former world number one from Russia swept to a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Currently ranked 86th after recently returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova was granted a wildcard to play in the Chinese event.

The 30-year-old, who returned to tennis in April after serving a suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium, has yet to win a tournament since returning to the sport.

The five-time Grand Slam winner exited the China Open last week in the third round at the hands of Romania’s Simona Halep, the newly crowned world number one.

But Sharapova had no such trouble against Begu, seeing off the 57th-ranked Romanian in 82 minutes in their first-round encounter.

She will next play Magda Linette of Poland or the Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko, both unseeded.

The opening matches of the Tianjin Open have been badly disrupted because of rain. -- AFP

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