Sharapova tells prize-money critic: 'I'm more popular'

Wimbledon golden girl Maria Sharapova delivered a stinging rebuke to Frenchman Gilles Simon for his outspoken criticism of equal prize money by telling him: 'You'll never be as popular as me'.

Simon caused an uproar at the All England Club by reigniting the thorny issue of equal cash rewards, claiming that the men's game is more attractive and that by playing five sets they deserve the greater rewards.

But Sharapova, who is the world's highest paid sportswoman, told Simon he was wide of the mark.

"No matter what anyone says, or the criticisms that we get, despite everything else, I'm sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his, so....," said Sharapova.

"We women have fought so long to get equal prize money. It was a big challenge and nobody really supported us. It's been a few years since we've gotten that.

"We're all really proud of it, and we continue to build the sport and make it bigger."

Sharapova found support from fellow former world number one Serena Williams, the four-time Wimbledon champion, who told Simon he was fighting a losing battle.

"She's way hotter than he is, so more people will watch Maria," said Williams.

"I started playing tennis at two years old. I'm sure he started when he was two years old, as well. I worked just as hard as he did."

Sharapova was playing on Court One on Thursday while Williams was on Centre Court, spending just an hour to beat Melinda Czink.

In contrast, world number 13 Simon was out on Court Three, losing in straight sets to Xavier Malisse in his second round match.

The 27-year-old Simon, who has collected 10 tour titles in his career, but has never gone further than the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam, faced a firestorm of questioning from the media.

But he said his views were shared by the majority of men on the tour.

"Men's players? The 128 players here think like me, that's for sure. Just ask them," he said.

"I am pretty sure they're thinking the same way as me. Maybe they can't say it; maybe they won't; maybe they will lose $2 million on the contracts if they say that.

"In the conversation in the locker room, for sure they agree with me. Trust me."

Simon conceded that he will never be as popular as Sharapova, but that his argument was about entertainment

"Maria is more famous than me. She deserves to win more money than me. That is not the problem," he said.

"My point of view is just about the entertainment. Men's tennis is actually more interesting than women's. As in any business or anything, you just have to be paid just about that.

"When Shakira is singing, she is winning more money than most of the men because everybody wants to see her."

"Entertainment is not about being a man or woman. It's about the public coming to watch you or not.

"It's not about how hard you work. You can work hard and be a very famous singer. You can work hard and just sing in your bathroom.

"Tomorrow, if women's tennis is more interesting than men's tennis, if the price of the woman's final is higher than the price of the men's final, they will deserve to win more money than us."

Ironically, former Wimbledon semi-finalist Malisse admitted he supported the Frenchman's outspoken views.

"I share his thought, but I'd rather not get into it. I'd rather he gets into it," said Malisse.

"I've gotten into too many things in my life, so I'm done with that."

But Malisse, the world 75, said that such arguments are put to one side once the players are on court.

"He has his opinion. Once we're on the court I don't think we think about prize money. We try to win and play the best possible," he said.

"I can't say more because it's a thought that he has, and I respect it."

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