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Sharapova agrees Birmingham deal

19 May 2017

Maria Sharapova was granted a wild card to play in the pre-Wimbledon tournament in Birmingham on Thursday.

"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", said Sharapova.

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.

Sharapova has slipped down the world rankings following a 15-month ban for breaching anti-doping rules, now finding herself way down in 211th in the women's standings.

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The five-times grand slam champion, who recently served a 15-month doping ban, learned on Tuesday she would not be given a wildcard into the French Open, with the question over whether Wimbledon will grant her one as yet unanswered. She returned from a 15-month ban in April after testing positive for meldonium.

Andy Murray is arguably the most prominent current tennis player to have voiced his concerns over Sharapova, saying returning offenders should have to work their way back up.

"There's always a lot of debate who we give wildcards to", he said. She has competed in the tournament seven times. 'When we were asked by her agent to provide a wildcard, we requested a two-year commitment because we wanted to maximise her appeal, ' said Downey.

An All England Club subcommittee will meet on June 20 to decide on wild cards for the main draw.

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Sharapova will also be at the tournament next year, with the event seen as one of the build-ups to Wimbledon.

Sharapova would have needed to reach the semi-finals in Rome to climb high enough to gain a spot in the main Wimbledon draw, but she withdrew during her second round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni after injuring her left hamstring.

Whether that happens now given the LTA's stance remains to be seen.

"She made a mistake that we do not condone". But Williams upped her game again in the third, seizing her only two break-point chances.

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