Maria Sharapova to enter Wimbledon qualifying tournament

"I am so grateful and excited to be playing this event again!" she said.

But the LTA has chose to grant her a wildcard for the event between the French Open and Wimbledon, and the two-time champion will now turn out for the event in Birmingham for the next two years.

The 30-year-old returned from a 15-month suspension in April for a failed drug test, and her road back to contention has been littered with speed bumps.

The LTA's call to grant the world No 211 a free pass for the Aegon Classic, which runs from 19-25 June, is likely to draw criticism from those that believe players suspended for doping should not be given special privileges.

Men's world number one and reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has been clear in his view that returning offenders should have to work their way back up and the same opinion has been expressed by a number of players on the women's tour.

But Sharapova has now signed a two year deal with the Lawn Tennis Association to participate at Birmingham's Aegon Classic.

'There can be a wildcard for the return of injuries - there cannot be a wildcard for the return from doping, ' FFT chief Bernard Giudicelli Ferrandini said.

"I decided not to give Maria Sharapova a wild card".

"Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wild card into the main draw".

That prompted speculation that Sharapova may be handed a wildcard into the year's third major, but she revealed on her website that she will be entering the qualification tournament instead. The five-time Grand Slam victor had plummeted to 211.

There had been question marks over whether she would even be fit enough to take part at Wimbledon after retiring against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in Rome but her acceptance of the wildcard to the event in Edgbaston, which starts on June 17, is a sign that the injury is not serious.

Italian Open organizers were the first to offer Sharapova a wild card, and they were criticized for not giving one to former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian. But these two she won according to rules. But she was no match for the American in a powerful first set in which the 36-year-old broke twice whilst saving the solitary break point on her own serve.