Sharapova to play in Birmingham grass court event

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LTA chief executive Michael Downey, who is to step down this summer, said: "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".

"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", Downey said.

The LTA's call to grant the world number 211 a free pass for the Aegon Classic, which runs from June 19-25, is likely to draw criticism from those that believe players suspended for doping should not be given special privileges.

The Russian was excluded from Roland Garros by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) after failing to make the cut for qualifiers following her return from a 15-month doping ban.

She won the first of her five grand slams at Wimbledon in 2004.

"The WTA tournament in Birmingham promises to give British tennis fans an exciting, pre-Wimbledon grass court competition on their doorstep", he added.

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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.

On Tuesday, two-times French Open champion Sharapova was unexpectedly snubbed by organisers who decided against giving her a wildcard into the main draw or the qualifying event of this year's tournament, which begins on May 28.

The five-time Grand Slam victor, 30, has been given a wildcard for the event in June having fallen down the world rankings after a 15-month drugs ban.

"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".

In return, Sharapova has also agreed to commit to the 2018 tournament as well.

Sharapova this week responded to her French Open wildcard snub with a defiant Twitter message, saying: "If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday".

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