TIANJIN, China - Maria Sharapova reached her first WTA final in almost two and a half years as she comfortably beat Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1 on Saturday.
The Russian recorded her fourth consecutive straight-sets victory in this year's tournament to overcome the third seed and earn a final against Aryna Sabalenka.
"The finals are the stage that I want to be at and where I want to do well," Sharapova said. "It has been a long road, so this is very rewarding, but I also know I have another match to play, so as much as I want to be happy and content, I know that I have an ambitious opponent in front of me.”
Sharapova, who this week announced her return to the Kremlin Cup for the first time in a decade, broke Peng in the very first game of the final, setting the tone for another confident performance in a week where she is yet to drop a set in China.
The remainder of the first set remained on serve until the ninth game, as the wild card achieved a second break to take the advantage against World No.25 Peng.
Defending champion Peng, 31, was struggling to halt the power of Sharapova, as her opponent won 94% of points on her first serve during the opening set.
Sharapova had lost just one of the pair's previous six meetings - going down in Beijing in 2009 - and the 30-year-old did not take long to continue her dominance in the second set here, breaking Peng for a 2-0 lead.
Peng overcame Alison Riske to win the Tianjin title in 2016 but could not retain her grip on the crown.
A further break to move 5-1 ahead made Sharapova's last service game a formality to leave the former World No.1 to complete victory in an hour and 18 minutes and prepare for her first final since winning in Rome in May 2015.
Sunday's meeting with Sabalenka will be her first with the Belarusian. The teenager earlier continued her fine week by beating Italian Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3 to clinch a debut WTA final appearance.
"From what I have seen, she is a really good player," Sharapova said of Sabalenka ahead of the final. "She is hungry, young [and] motivated to be in this stage of the tournament. It's very flattering when someone looks up to you, but it's also very dangerous because they want that position. They want to be the champion and no matter who you are playing in the final, both of us deserve to be at that stage. I am excited. I am excited that my first final [back] is at this event."