Aegon Classic: Maria Sharapova will be offered Birmingham wildcard

Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard
Maria Sharapova was defeated by Eugenie Bouchard in a marathon three-setter in the second round of the Madrid Open on Monday

Maria Sharapova will be offered a wildcard into next month's Aegon Classic in Birmingham.

Sources told BBC Sport that discussions between Sharapova's team and the Lawn Tennis Association are under way.

The move has the blessing of outgoing LTA chief executive Michael Downey.

Asked about the issue on Tuesday, Andy Murray said: "They've obviously done what they think is right for that event and maybe haven't thought as much about the wider implications of it."

Sharapova has not played a Wimbledon warm-up event since she reached the final in Birmingham in 2010.

Her presence in the field is likely to boost ticket sales at a tournament that is perpetually overshadowed by the ATP tournament at The Queen's Club in the same week. Tickets are still available for all days of the tournament which runs from 19-25 June.

Na Li and Maria Sharapova
Li Na beat former world number one Maria Sharapova 7-5 6-1 in Birmingham to win the Aegon Classic in 2010

The LTA will expect criticism for their decision, which appears to have been made purely on commercial grounds.

Britons Murray and Heather Watson are just two players who have expressed their uneasiness about the quantity of wildcards being offered to Sharapova since she returned from a 15-month ban for taking meldonium.

"I've spoken about this at length pretty much for 15 months now," added Murray, speaking after his opening win in Madrid on Tuesday.

"I feel like I've made myself pretty clear how I felt about that. I do think the tournaments clearly are going to do what they think is going to sell the most tickets, give them the most coverage, get the most people into watch.

"I'm sure the LTA saw the coverage that was given to last night's match and was given to Maria's run in Stuttgart as well - the amount of media that were over there covering it - and think that's what's best for the tournament in Birmingham. But I'm sure it split a lot of opinion.

"I'm sure the discussions about whether to give it or not were long and I'm sure there were some disagreements."

Watson, who will receive a wildcard of her own into the Birmingham draw, said during March's Miami Open that from "a moral standpoint you should have to work your way back up if you've been on a ban".

There is unlikely to be swift confirmation that Sharapova will play in Birmingham, where she won the title in both 2004 and 2005. That is because all eyes are currently on Roland Garros, which will announce next Tuesday whether they are to offer Sharapova a wildcard for either qualifying or the main draw of the French Open.

That, in turn, will have implications for how much Sharapova wishes to play on the grass. The five-time Grand Slam champion has already been offered a wildcard into the event in the Dutch town of Rosmalen in the week after the French Open.

Sharapova's participation in the rival Nottingham tournament should not be completely ruled out if she loses early in Paris, or a French Open invitation fails to materialise.

The All England Club will not meet to finalise their wildcards until 20 June, but despite her second-round defeat by Eugenie Bouchard in Madrid, Sharapova can still gain direct entry into Wimbledon by reaching the semi-finals in Rome next week.

Johanna Konta, Garbine Muguruza, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep headline the entry list in Birmingham, which will be confirmed later this week.

"We are currently in the process of deciding which players will receive wildcards for our summer season grass court tournaments" an LTA spokesman told the BBC.

"It's a carefully considered process which happens at this time every year. We will announce the names of wild card recipients in due course, before the start of each tournament."

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