Sharapova to play in Birmingham grass court event

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 the Aegon Classic Birmingham".

The five-time Grand Slam victor, 30, has been given a wildcard for the event in June having fallen down the world rankings after a 15-month drugs ban. The French Open agreed, and decided on Tuesday not to give the two-time champion a wild card for the Grand Slam this month.

The Russian was excluded from Roland Garros by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) after failing to make the cut for qualifiers following her return from a 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova desperately needs to work on her ranking to qualify for Wimbledon.

Sharapova would have needed to reach the semi-finals in Rome to climb high enough to gain a spot in the main Wimbledon draw, but she withdrew during her second round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni after injuring her left hamstring.

British number one Johanna Konta, world number one Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep will also be competing in Birmingham.

There had been question marks whether the qualifying tournament in Roehampton could handle the added demands of such a global star participating but organisers are confident of hosting her.

Maria Sharapova has been granted a wildcard for next month's WTA grasscourt event in Birmingham, a key Wimbledon warm-up, organizers said Thursday (Friday in Manila).

"I have some great memories of playing there over the years, including winning the title on two previous occasions", the 30-year-old said. In return we are providing Maria with a Main Draw wild card for this year.

The Aegon Classic in Birmingham has now offered Sharapova the chance to fine-tune her grass court game after she committed to appear there next year as well.

"I am looking forward to seeing all the recent improvements the tournament has made to establish itself as one the best grass court events in the world".

  • Julie Sanders