BIRMINGHAM, UK - Two-time champion Maria Sharapova has been forced to withdraw from the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.
"I have good memories of Birmingham so I’m disappointed not to be able to play this year," she said. "I need to take care of my body and make sure I stay healthy and sometimes that means you have to take tough decisions like this one. I wish everyone in Birmingham a great tournament."
French Open finalist Madison Keys is also unable to participate due to an abdominal injury.
"I am sorry to have to pull out of Birmingham this year," said the American. "Everyone knows how much I love playing on grass and I was looking forward to starting my grass season there, but unfortunately I aggravated an injury I sustained in Rome and need to rest as much as I can right now. I look forward to returning to Birmingham next year and playing in front of its great fans."
Former Birmingham runner-up Donna Vekic has now joined the field, alongside British No.1 Johanna Konta, reigning Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, World No.5 Elina Svitolina, World No.7 Karolina Pliskova, and Top 20 players Julia Goerges, Elise Mertens, CoCo Vandeweghe, Naomi Osaka, Magdalena Rybarikova and Australia’s Ashleigh Barty.
Vekic is a proven grass-court performer, having won last year’s Nature Valley Open in Nottingham, where she beat Konta in the final. The pair went on to have another thrilling encounter at Wimbledon in what was one of the stand-out women’s matches of the Championships. The Croatian was runner-up in Birmingham as a teenager in 2013, when she lost to Daniela Hantuchova.
Nature Valley Classic Tournament Director Patrick Hughesman said: ”Adding Donna to the draw is a big bonus because she’s arguably one of the most dangerous players out there on a grass-court and I'm sure that she'll have good memories of reaching the final here in 2013.
"Of course it’s always disappointing to lose players of the stature of Madison and Maria but that's the nature of sport and we understand that their health has to come first, particularly after a gruelling clay court season. Fortunately our player list is still incredibly strong and this remains one of the best line-ups the tournament has ever had."
The Nature Valley Classic takes place from June 18 to 24.