Toronto FC star striker Jozy Altidore, no stranger to the world of tennis thanks to partner Sloane Stephens, says plenty went through his mind when he saw Serena Williams’ U.S. Open meltdown.
His first thought was for Naomi Osaka, the 20-year-old crowned champion at the end of the controversial weekend final.
“Actually I felt bad for Naomi, just because winning a Grand Slam that’s probably a special moment for her – playing against her idol,” Altidore said after training Tuesday. “I’m sure it was a bit bittersweet for her to have to go through in that way. But all in all, she’s a really good player, a good up-and-coming talent and she deserved to win, I think.”
Altidore also felt for Williams, who believes she was victim of a double-standard given the past actions of some male players – misbehaviour that went without the kind of code violation penalties she faced in her loss to Osaka.
“Look it’s no secret, man. I think women have had to deal with a lot – in terms of inequality, whether it be in pay or how they’re treated in all sports, not just tennis. Soccer and a bunch of sports. It’s nothing new in terms of her feeling that way and (it’s) something that needs to be addressed,” Altidore continued.
“Having said that though, she’s a pro. She’s a terrific player and she did a great job in terms of not shifting it away from Naomi, making sure that she got her time in the (lime)light a little bit.”
Williams was penalized a point and then a game after her second and third code violations, a rocky road that started when she was singled out for receiving coaching from the stands.
Reduced to tears, the 36-year-old Williams put her arm around an equally emotional Osaka in the post-match ceremony and urged the crowd not to boo.
Altidore, meanwhile, said he is still figuring out how to manage the emotional turmoil of watching Stephens from the stands.
“Man, I still haven’t found a way. I still haven’t become good at it,” he said with a smile. “There is no becoming good at it. Because you know how much it means to them, you know what they feel like after, good or bad. So it’s not easy to watch, because you live and die out there with every point. And so I can only imagine what it was like for those two on that night.”
Stephens, who won the U.S. Open last year and made it to the quarterfinals this year, is currently ranked ninth in the world.