London, May 18: Maria Sharapova has been granted a wildcard for next month’s WTA grasscourt event in Birmingham, a key Wimbledon warm-up, organisers said on Thursday.
It comes two days after the Russian former world number one was refused a wildcard for the French Open following her 15-month ban for doping.
Next month will see 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova, 30, play the Birmingham event for the first time in seven years.
She is guaranteed a spot in qualifying for Wimbledon but still hopes to get into the main draw for the Grand Slam with a wildcard.
Wimbledon chiefs will wait until June 20, just days ahead of the qualifying event, before deciding whether to give her a wildcard.
Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Michael Downey accepted “not everyone will agree” with the decision to give Sharapova a wildcard for Birmingham.
“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,” he said, after the Russian said she would play there in 2017 and 2018.
“In return we are providing Maria with a main draw wildcard for this year.
“This wasn’t a decision we took lightly and we recognise not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high-quality tennis.”
He added: “There’s always a lot of debate about who we give wildcards 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.”
The Birmingham event at the Edgbaston Priory club runs June 17-25, with Wimbledon commencing on July 3.
Sharapova returned from her doping ban on April 26.