Maria Sharapova given wildcard to play in Birmingham by LTA
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 18/05/17 4:58pm
The Lawn Tennis Association has confirmed it has accepted a request from Maria Sharapova to play at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham in June.
Five-time grand slam champion Sharapova has been given a wildcard by the LTA to enter the tournament and will also play the grass-court event in 2018 after agreeing a two-year deal.
Sharapova said: "I am really excited to be coming back to Birmingham this year to play on the grass as part of my build up to Wimbledon and I thank the LTA for this opportunity.
"I have some great memories of playing there over the years, including winning the title on two previous occasions."
Sharapova was refused automatic entry to the French Open on Tuesday, with her ranking still too low to qualify by right. She returned from a 15-month ban in April after testing positive for meldonium.
LTA chief executive Michael Downey, who is to step down this summer, said: "We have received a two-year commitment from one of the most famous athletes in the world, Maria Sharapova, to play in Birmingham.
"In return we are providing Maria with a main draw wildcard for this year. This wasn't a decision we took lightly and we recognise not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high-quality tennis.
"There's always a lot of debate about who we give wildcards to. Now that Maria has earned direct entry into Wimbledon qualifying, we want to give British tennis fans the chance to see her compete on grass here in Britain
The decision will place added scrutiny on Wimbledon's decision whether to offer Sharapova a wildcard into their main draw this summer.
Sharapova has accumulated enough points already to enter Wimbledon qualifying but an All England Club sub-committee will meet on June 20 to decide which players will be fast-tracked into the first round proper.
In response to the French Open's controversial decision, Sharapova said: "If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday. No words, games, or actions will ever stop me from reaching my own dreams. And I have many."
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