BIRMINGHAM, UK - Wildcards for next week's Nature Valley Classic have been awarded to two former World No.1s, with five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams making her debut in Birmingham and 2015 runner-up Karolina Pliskova returning for the sixth time.
Williams, who lost in the first round of Roland Garros to Elina Svitolina, will play a Wimbledon warm-up for just the fourth time in her career - and first outside Eastbourne, where she competed in 1997, 1998 and 2011. The 38-year-old American is seeking to capture her 50th career title.
Pliskova, meanwhile, is coming off a third-round defeat in Paris at the hands of Petra Martic. The Czech lost a thrilling 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(4) final here four years ago to Angelique Kerber, but fell in the first round in both of her subsequent appearances - to Barbora Strycova in 2016 and Magdalena Rybarikova in 2018.
2⃣4⃣ grand Slam titles ✅ 5⃣ @Wimbledon singles titles ✅ 5⃣ @Olympics medals ✅
Superstar @Venuseswilliams is coming to the #NatureValleyClassic Birmingham. Get your tickets 👉 https://t.co/i0cTB063JN pic.twitter.com/1gSsLvpIfV
— LTA (@the_LTA) June 10, 2019
Williams was eager to play the event for the first time, saying: "I'm really excited to be playing in Birmingham for the first time. I always love playing on grass in front of British crowds and have heard wonderful things about the tournament."
Pliskova, for her part, was keen to build on her positive memories of the event: "I'm very happy to be coming back to Birmingham because it has a fantastic lineup of players this year and the competition will be really strong," she said. "There is no better way to open my grass court season. I have great memories of playing in the final there in 2015 and I'd love to go one better this time."
— LTA (@the_LTA) June 12, 2019
Meanwhile, tournament director Patrick Hughesman said: "We are delighted to welcome Venus to Birmingham. Having so many big stars playing this year gives us a great opportunity to open tennis up to a new audience. Venus is a tennis legend in her own lifetime and she’s also a fantastic role model, whose impact reaches well beyond the sport.
"Karolina is a fantastic addition to this year's amazing player field and we're delighted to welcome her. Having the world’s top three-ranked players is a first for the tournament and fits with the LTA's vision to make the event bigger and better each year allowing us to open the tournament and the sport up to a wider audience. Birmingham is becoming a city of sport and we're right at the heart of that."
Williams and Pliskova join one of the most stacked fields in Birmingham's tournament history: World No.1 Naomi Osaka, newly crowned Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty and resurgent British No.1 Johanna Konta will also be in the draw. However, defending champion and two-time Wimbledon victor Petra Kvitova has been forced to withdraw due to the left forearm injury that sidelined her during Roland Garros; 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza has pulled out due to a left leg injury; and 2016 Birmingham winner Madison Keys has also withdrawn due to injury.