Tennis: Maria Sharapova draws Wuhan and China Open winner Caroline Garcia in dicey Tianjin opener

Maria Sharapova hits a return during her women's singles match against Simona Halep at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on Oct 4, 2017.
Maria Sharapova hits a return during her women's singles match against Simona Halep at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on Oct 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Beijing (AFP) - Maria 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 in-form Caroline Garcia.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 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, which she suffered during her victorious run at the China Open, and she could yet choose to skip Tianjin.

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

Garcia is in the form of her life, winning the Wuhan Open last weekend and clinching the China Open on Sunday after defeating new world No. 1 Romania's Simona Halep in the final 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Also taking part in Tianjin will be the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

But as usual, the 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 No. 1 for the first time on Monday (Oct 9).