London, April 19 (IANS) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova said that she planned to play in the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham, England, to prepare for the grass courts of Wimbledon.
“I’m excited to return to play the Nature Valley Classic. I feel like the fans in Birmingham and I go back a long way and I’ve got a lot of good memories of playing there,” Sharapova said on Wednesday, reports EFE news agency.
The 30-year-old Sharapova, who has won five Grand Slam titles, had to pull out of Birmingham last year due to an injury.
“It’s going to feel really good to be back out there playing again,” Sharapova, who beat American Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2004 for her first major title when she was only 17, said.
Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion and world No. 3; British No. 1 Johanna Konta; the Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion; and Japanese rising star Naomi Osaka are also in the field at Birmingham.
Sharapova, won the title at Birmingham in 2004 and 2005, and she was the finalist on the grass courts of Edgbaston Priory Club in 2007 and 2010.
The event in Birmingham, which will be played June 16-24, will be Sharapova’s first grasscourt tournament since 2015, when she reached the semifinals at Wimbledon only to fall to Williams, the eventual champion.
The former world No. 1 reached an agreement with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the governing body of tennis in Britain, to compete in the Nature Valley Classic in 2018 and 2019.
Sharapova received a wild card into the event in 2017, but she had to pull out at the last minute due to an injury and also missed Wimbledon.
The Russian star returned to action last year after a 15-month doping suspension that kept her off the court from March 2016 to April 2017.
Since getting back on the WTA Tour, Sharapova has had a series of injuries that have prevented her from playing the kind of tennis that once made her the top player in the world.
Sharapova, the world No.42, made it to the third round of the Australian Open and advanced to the semi-finals at Shenzhen, her best performance of the season.