Maria Sharapova is set to play the Aegon Classic in Birmingham ahead of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships; the Russian is a two-time champion at the LTA event.
WTA Staff

BIRMINGHAM, Great Britain - Five-time Grand Slam Champion Maria Sharapova has today been named as the first of seven main draw singles wild cards for this summer’s British WTA grass court events organised by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). The former World No.1 will play the Aegon Classic Birmingham for the first time in seven years, and has committed to playing both the 2017 and 2018 events.

“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," Sharapova said in a statement.

"I have some great memories of playing there over the years, including winning the title on two previous occasions.  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.”

"This wasn’t a decision we took lightly and we recognise not everyone will agree with it," noted LTA Chief Executive Michael Downey, "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 wild cards 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 beforehand."

Sharapova first won the Aegon Classic back in 2004, going on to win her maiden major title that same year at Wimbledon, aged 17. The Russian defended her Birmingham title the following year, and finished runner-up in 2007 and 2010.