London: 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 and completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open this month, 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 and the holder of 13 Grand Slam titles, who told Simon he was fighting a losing battle.
"She's way hotter than he is, so more people will watch Maria," said Williams.
"Women's tennis is awesome. It's a great fight. We fought for years with Billie Jean King, and Venus as well, they really set the pattern on what we should do.
"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.
"I'm sure he continues to work hard as I work hard, as well as everyone that's on a professional level."
Sharapova was playing on Court One on Thursday while Williams was on Centre Court spending just an hour top 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.
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.
"But I think it's his opinion. But I can't say more because it's a thought that he has, and I respect it."
Simon caused an uproar this week when he insisted that equal prize money is not practical.
"We often speak of equal money, but I think it's something that doesn't work in sport," he said.
"Tennis is the only sport today where we have parity even though men's tennis remains more attractive than women's at this time."
Simon has also criticised the move towards more joint-tournaments outside of the four majors -- last week, men and women played at the same event in Eastbourne and 's-Hertogenbosch.
"I am not against these tournaments, it's just that I think that today men's tennis is really ahead compared to women," he said.
"When Rome became a joint tournament it was to save the women because I remember a final with 20 spectators".