Sharapova to face strong challenges in Birmingham wildcard


Maria Sharapova will feature alongside eight of the world’s top 10 if she accepts a wildcard for next month’s Aegon Classic in Birmingham.

Britain’s Johanna Konta will play, along with Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber, who will return to world number one on Monday.

BBC Sport understands Sharapova will be offered a wildcard for Birmingham.

The Russian, who returned from a 15-month doping ban last month, lost to Eugenie Bouchard in Madrid on Monday.

Her involvement in Spain, courtesy of another wildcard, ended in the second round courtesy of a 7-5 2-6 6-4 defeat to the Canadian, who had been critical of the Russian, calling her a “cheat” and saying she should never have been allowed to play again.

She also received a wildcard for Stuttgart in April, where she reached the last four.

The line-up for Birmingham is the strongest ever seen at the grass-court event.

Of the current top 10, only Svetlana Kuznetsova and Serena Williams, who recently announced her pregnancy, are missing.

The event runs from 17-25 June and is one of three tournaments – along with the Aegon Open in Nottingham and the Aegon International in Eastbourne – in the lead up to Wimbledon in July.

Sharapova, who has not played a Wimbledon warm-up event since she reached the final in Birmingham in 2010, remains some way adrift of direct entry into the Wimbledon main draw.

She will need to reach the semi-finals in Rome next week to make sure. A first-round defeat could cost her a place in qualifying unless the All England Club offers her a wildcard.

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