Maria Sharapova had a simple retort to the notion that men should be paid more than women at Grand Slam tournaments. Serena Williams just laughed and covered her face with one hand before delivering her own riposte.
Two of the biggest stars of women’s tennis did not hold back on Thursday when responding to comments made this week by men’s world No. 13 Gilles Simon — a member of the ATP Player Council — that have rekindled the debate over equal prize money and made it a hot topic again at Wimbledon.
While Simon defended his viewpoint and said that a majority of male players agree with him — but are afraid to speak out — Sharapova offered a clear answer to why she deserves the money she earns.
“I’m sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his,” she said.
On a more serious note, Sharapova added: “Look, 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’s comments were relayed to Williams after her match on Centre Court.
“You know I can’t bite my tongue,” Williams said. “Definitely a lot more people are watching Maria than Simon. She’s way hotter than he is. Women’s tennis, I think, is really awesome. It’s a great fight. We fought for years with Billie Jean King, and Venus [Williams] as well, really set the pattern on what we should do.”
In 2007, Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam tournament to start giving equal prize money to the men’s and women’s singles champions. The French Open introduced it a year earlier, copying the US Open and Australian Open, which have had it for years.
Simon, however, believes male players provide more entertainment during matches and should be compensated accordingly.
“The 128 players [in the men’s singles draw at Wimbledon] think just like me, that’s for sure. Just ask them,” the Frenchman said. “Maybe they can’t say it ... Maybe they will lose, I don’t know, US$2 million on the contracts if they say that.”
“My point of view was just about the entertainment. If you just watch how it is working in every other sport, even for the singers, you’re just paid by the public directly. My point was that I have the feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis,” he added. “As in any business or anything, you just have to be paid just about that. It’s not because we play five sets and they are playing three.”
Simon also said that Wimbledon charges more for tickets to the men’s singles final than the women’s. This year, for example, a seat at Centre Court for the men’s final costs ￡120 (US$185), while tickets are ￡105 for the women’s.
In public, though, male players have been slow to back Simon.
Roger Federer avoided wading into the debate after his second-round win on Wednesday.
Andy Roddick said the whole debate should not become “a gender issue” and that tennis was a business like any other.
“I’m sure there’s a way to figure out who people are coming to watch,” Roddick said. “I’m sure there’s TV ratings to look at. I’m sure there are ample numbers out there to dissect. As any business goes, you look at those numbers and then decide where it goes from there.”
Andy Murray said: “There’s a lot of things the guys do agree on,” and said it was easier for women to play both singles and doubles at the Grand Slams because they play fewer sets.