The row over equal pay in tennis was reignited as French player Gilles Simon was forced to defend himself after slipping out of Wimbledon.

The 13th seed, who lost to Belgian Xavier Malisse, sparked controversy by claiming female players should not get as much as their male counterparts.

He previously told France Info: "The male players spent twice as long on court at Roland Garros (during the recent French Open) as the women.

"The equality in salaries isn't something that works in sport.

"Men's tennis remains more attractive than women's tennis at the moment."

His comments sparked a backlash from players and from Women's Tennis Association chairman Stacey Allaster, who said: "Tennis, including the grand slams, is aligned with our modern, progressive society when it comes to the principle of equality.

gilles simon

Simon, the 13th seed, disastrously went out of Wimbledon in a straight sets loss to Xavier Malisse

"I can't believe in this day and age that anyone can still think otherwise."

On Thursday women's world number one Maria Sharapova joined the debate, pointedly suggesting more people watch her games than Simon's.

Speaking after her victory over Tsvetana Pironkova, she said: "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.

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

Wimbledon began offering equal prize money in 2007 after a unanimous vote in favour of the proposal by the championship committee.

The disparity was previously justified by the fact that men play best-of-five-set matches in grand slams while women play best-of-three.

maria sharapova

French Open champion and world number one Maria Sharapova struck back at Simon's comments

But Simon today told journalists his point was about how much entertainment the different sexes offered to viewers.

"My point was that I have the feeling that men's tennis is actually more interesting than women's tennis," he said.

Asked about Sharapova's comments, he said: "It's not about me, one player, or another one. Maria (Sharapova) is more famous than me. I know it. She deserves to win more money than me."

Simon said it was not about length of matches or how hard people work, and he was aware of the struggle for equal rights, but said the issue was about the entertainment industry.

Simon said it was not about length of matches or how hard people work, and he was aware of the struggle for equal rights, but said the issue was about the entertainment industry.

"Entertainment is not about being a man or woman. It's just about, as I said, public coming to watch you or not."

Simon was dumped out in the second round by Belgium's Xavier Malisse in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6.

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