Sharapova receives wild card into pre-Wimbledon event

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Controversy has surrounded Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam women's singles champion, since she came back from her drugs ban last month.

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

"We have received a two-year commitment from one of the most famous athletes in the world, Maria Sharapova, to play the Aegon Classic", LTA Chief Executive Michael Downey said.

"This wasn't a decision we took lightly and we recognize not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high-quality tennis".

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"Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wildcard", Sharapova said on her website. She has paid the price through her 15-month ban and now can return to action.

After being suspended for testing positive for meldonium in the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova has been handed wildcards at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome - and she could not hide her disappointment at being refused entry to Roland Garros.

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.

Sharapova has accumulated enough points already to enter Wimbledon qualifying but an All England Club sub-committee will meet on 20 June to decide which players will be fast-tracked into the first round proper.

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"She will face a star studded line up that includes eight of the world's Top 10, headlined by British No.1 Johanna Konta and world No.1 Angelique Kerber".

A deal has been struck with the Lawn Tennis Association to play in the event for the next two years, although she will not receive an appearance fee.

Sharapova returned from her doping ban on April 26. "I am looking forward to seeing all the recent improvements the tournament has made to establish itself as one of the best grass court events in the world".

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