"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.

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