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Sharapova receives wild card into pre-Wimbledon event

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Maria Sharapova has been granted a wild card to play in the pre-Wimbledon tournament in Birmingham, two days after she was rejected by the French Open because of her recent doping ban.

British Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Michael Downey says Sharapova committed to the Aegon Classic for this year and next year in return for a wild card.

Downey says “this wasn’t a decision we took lightly and we recognize not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high quality tennis.”

The Aegon Classic begins on June 19, two weeks before Wimbledon.

Sharapova won the title in Birmingham in 2004 and 2005. She has competed in the tournament seven times.

Djokovic lines up Dimitrov at Queen’s Club

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LONDON — Novak Djokovic’s first appearance at Queen’s Club in eight years was successful when he put away Australian qualifier John Millman 6-2, 6-1 on Tuesday.

Djokovic, entered as a wild card, will play second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the second round.

Also, Milos Raonic, runner-up to Roger Federer last week in Stuttgart, won his opener when Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri retired hurt while trailing 6-1, 3-1.

Djokovic’s comeback from right elbow surgery in January has been gathering pace after reaching the Rome semifinals and French Open quarterfinals. He leads Dimitrov 6-1 in career matchups.

Dimitrov, the 2014 Queen’s champion, struggled past Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3. Dimitrov saved six of eight break points.

Svitolina’s top ambitions survive grass-court struggle

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Elena Svitolina, who came within two wins of becoming world No. 1 in January, maintained her ambitious momentum to reach the top by surviving a tricky start to her Wimbledon build-up on Tuesday.

The second-seeded Svitolina stumbled within sight of a two-set victory, and briefly faltered again in the last set before beating Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

Svitolina showed glimpses of the tenacious movement and consistently ferocious drives which have earned her the best win-loss record on the WTA tour since the beginning of last year, but also revealed glimpses of insecurity on the lush, low-bouncing surface.

Despite carving a lead of a set and 3-1, her gradually increasing attempts to win points in the forecourt were of variable quality, while Vekic, a former runner-up here, began to contain and counterattack more effectively.

Svitolina nearly let slip another lead of 3-1, in the last set, needing to save two break points on her next service game – one with a fine serve, and the other with a net attack finished off at the third attempt.

Eventually, the Ukrainian’s determination to adapt tactically to a surface on which she has yet to progress beyond any quarterfinal paid timely dividends, and she accelerated toward the finishing line at a canter.

“I was just trying to play well and to dominate, but she played a couple of great points to break back – which is always nice to have,” said Svitolina, apparently meaning she was pleased to gain extra practice on such a technique-testing surface.

“It was difficult for me because she hit the ball very flat and the first match on grass is always a challenge.”

She next faces Alize Cornet of France, who notably beat Serena Williams at 2014 Wimbledon, and who outlasted former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, by 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.