Sharapova wild card for Wimbledon warm-up?
MARIA Sharapova is to be offered a wild card into the Aegon Classic in Birmingham next month, according to reports.
The Russian had no ranking on her return from a 15-month doping ban and is currently relying on wild cards for entry into WTA Tour events.
The Aegon Classic is a major Wimbledon warm-up tournament, and The Times and the BBC have reported that one of the available wild cards will be offered to Sharapova.
The Russian won the tournament in 2004 and 2005, but has not played at Edgbaston Priory since losing to Li Na in the final in 2010.
Whether or not Sharapova should be given wild cards into the biggest tournaments has been the hottest topic in tennis over the past few months.
The Lawn Tennis Association, which runs the Birmingham event, will be well aware it will face criticism if Sharapova is invited.
Andy Murray and Heather Watson, who herself will need a wild card into the tournament, have been two players to publicly express the view that doping offenders should not be given a helping hand on their return.
But tickets remain available for every day of the tournament, which runs from June 19-25, and Sharapova's presence would be guaranteed to increase interest.
An LTA spokesman said: "We are currently in the process of deciding which players will receive wild cards for our summer season grass court tournaments.
"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."
A wild card for Sharapova would mean a British player potentially missing out, but last year only two of the four wild cards went to home hopefuls, with Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova receiving the others.
Watson, Naomi Broady and Tara Moore would all hope to join British number one Johanna Konta, who has direct entry. Sharapova will find out next Tuesday whether she is to be given a wild card into the French Open main draw, qualifying or neither, while a Wimbledon committee will meet to discuss the subject on June 20.
One victory at next week's WTA Tour event in Rome would boost Sharapova's ranking enough to earn her direct entry into Wimbledon qualifying but she would need to reach the semi-finals to book her spot in the main draw without the need for a wild card.