Venus Williams, Sharapova take wild cards into Birmingham and Mallorca

Venus Williams, Sharapova take wild cards into Birmingham and Mallorca

Williams joins a strong Birmingham field that includes Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and French Open champion Ashleigh Barty.

Former Wimbledon champions Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have accepted wild cards into next week's grass-court events in Birmingham and Mallorca in advance of the season’s third major tournament.

Williams, a five-time singles winner at the All England Club, will play a lead-up event on grass for the first time since 2011. Her appearance in Birmingham will mark her debut at the WTA Premier event. The 38-year-old is looking to win her first title since 2016, which would mark her 50th career trophy.

“I'm really excited to be playing in Birmingham for the first time,” Williams said in an official statement. "I always love playing on grass in front of British crowds and have heard wonderful things about the tournament.”

World No. 1 Naomi Osaka, defending champion Petra Kvitova, British No. 1 Johanna Konta and former titlist Madison Keys are among the challengers slated to compete alongside Williams and recently crowned French Open champion Ashleigh Barty in a loaded field. Barty, who is not defending her 2018 title in Nottingham this week, is right behind Osaka in the latest rankings.

Sharapova has not played in more than four months since withdrawing ahead of her second-round match with Daria Kasatkina in St. Petersburg. The 2004 Wimbledon titlist underwent surgery on her right shoulder in February and is seeking her first grass-court crown in 14 years.

Sharapova joins reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, Anastasija Sevastova, Belinda Bencic, Victoria Azarenka and Roland Garros semifinalist Amanda Anisimova at the WTA International tournament. Sevastova, the 2017 winner, has appeared in every final since the event's inception in 2016.