PARIS – No female tennis player is more of a worldwide icon than Maria Sharapova. It would be difficult to find a female athlete in any sport who can boast of comparable notoriety. And no up-and-coming women's tennis player has received a more comprehensive publicity push than Canada's Genie Bouchard.
So when the two met in a semi-final clash at the French Open Thursday, you'd certainly expect a somewhat of a splash the next day in L'Équipe, France's fabulous daily sports newspaper of record.
The reality? Nothing.
Seriously: zilcho. To an embarrassing degree.
It's not a specific indictment of the newspaper's editorial policy, although obviously it's a very visible example, or even anything specific against Sharapova, Bouchard or even Andrea Petkovic, also a semifinalist, who had a terrific tournament. The country as a whole seems to treat women's tennis as something of a second-class sport.
There were nearly seven pages (out of 22) devoted to tennis in the newspaper's Friday edition (think about what a luxury that is; we North American tennis fans can only dream about that sort of thing).
Out of those seven pages, there was only one small piece about the women's semi-finals (remember, there were no men's singles matches that day). Sharapova and Bouchard barely rated a passing mention.
Even more amazingly, they used a photo of Halep, now a top-ranked player but still practically unknown to anyone who's not a fairly serious tennis fan.
What did l'Équipe fill its seven tennis pages with?
*A story about how Nadal and Djokovic were only slight favorites to win their semi-final matches Friday.
*A Mats Wilander column about how Andy Murray loves playing lefties
*A story breaking down Ernests Gulbis's strokes
*A page and a half about Novak Djokovic coach Boris Becker and his issues.
*A day-after story about Gaël Monfils's quarter-final loss to Murray
*A piece about the French doubles pair, Benneteau and Roger-Vasselin, in the doubles semi.
*A look back by Roger-Vasselin's father, Christophe, at the day he defeated Jimmy Connors in the 1983 quarter-finals.
*Last but not least, a full page on the 40th anniversary of 18-year-old Bjorn Borg's first win at Roland Garros.
Interesting reading, all. But seriously? It's the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, and a very glamorous match-up.
As a follow up, Saturday's main front photo is about the big France-Australia rugby game. But the banner at the top isn't about the women's final, but about ... those two clay-court titans Nadal and Djokovic meeting again.
Three full pages recapping the men's semis.
The women get a few crumbs - a headline written off of Sharapova's brief pre-finals press conference that says: "Sharapova, out of style?" And a smallish story about Halep's agent and fellow Romanian, Virginia Ruzici (the 1978 French Open women's champion) talking about her charge.
And there - finally - we actually get a photo of Sharapova. It's the trophy presentation photo with Halep from last month's tournament in Madrid, Spain.
Not that France is the only country that considers women's tennis a lower-tier endeavor (Hello, Spain! Holá, Argentina!). But it's also a country that has some fine women players who get basically no attention. It's hardly an environment in which they can thrive.
We're also getting the feeling that in terms of Sharapova, they really just don't like her too much. Should she start taking up French? Would that help? Hasn't seemed to do Bouchard much good - at least not so far.