Coco Gauff rallies to win at U.S. Open, meets Barack, Michelle Obama

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Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands to watch Coco Gauff’s first-round victory at the U.S. Open on Monday night. Afterward, Gauff met the Obamas — and even received some advice.

“I wasn’t sure they were here or not. I saw the Secret Service. I didn’t know if it was Mr. Biden and Mrs. Biden. I knew it was somebody. Then I heard that maybe Mr. Clinton was coming. I didn’t know who exactly it was. So I didn’t know until after the match,” Gauff, a 19-year-old from Florida, said after a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Laura Siegemund that grew contentious over Siegemund’s delay tactics between points.

“I didn’t see them in the presidential box,” Gauff said about the Obamas. “I was obviously looking at that, but they weren’t, I guess, in my eyeline. But afterward, they told me they wanted to say hi.”

Initially, Gauff explained, word came that she would have some time with Michelle Obama.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

“Then Mr. Obama was there in the room, too. I was like, ‘Oh, my God,” Gauff said with a big smile at her post-match news conference. “I haven’t soaked it in because I literally just walked in here. I think I’m going to never forget that moment for the rest of my life. I went from being really upset after a win to, like, being really happy. So I’m glad I got to meet them. They gave me some good advice, too.”

And the bit of wisdom that was offered?

The former first lady “said it’s good to speak up for myself. I think she was happy that I spoke up for myself today,” recounted Gauff, the 2022 French Open runner-up said, referring to a discussion with the chair umpire about the way Siegemund took extra time between points.

Michelle Obama also went to the court Monday night to participate in a tribute to Billie Jean King marking the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open becoming the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to pay equal prize money to women.

“Billie Jean teaches us that when things lie in the balance, we all have a choice to make. We can either wait around and accept what we’re given. We can sit silently and hope someone else fights our battles. Or we can make our own stand,” Michelle Obama said during the ceremony between Gauff’s match and 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic’s contest that followed next in Ashe. “We can use whatever platforms we have to speak out and fight to protect the progress we’ve made, and level the playing field for all of our daughters and their daughters.”

In 1972, when King won the U.S. Open, she earned $10,000 for her title, $15,000 less than what the men’s champion made. She threatened to not play at all the next year — and added that no other women would, either.

King then helped recruit a sponsor that stepped in and helped make up the difference in 1973, so the two singles champions were paid the same amount: $25,000. It wasn’t until more than 30 years later that Wimbledon became the last major tennis tournament to pay its singles champions equally.

“Even today, there are far too many tournaments out there that still need to give equal pay to women. … Let us remember all of this is far bigger than a champion’s paycheck,” Michelle Obama said Monday. “This is about how women are seen and valued in this world.”

She also attended the U.S. Open last year, when she saw American Frances Tiafoe play during his run to the semifinals.

Looking ready for a serious defense of her U.S. Open title, Iga Swiatek won Monday’s first match in Ashe — she needed all of 58 minutes to dismiss Rebecca Peterson 6-0, 6-1 — but otherwise, the going was rough for some of the highest-seeded players.

The No. 4 man, Holger Rune, was bounced 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 by the 63rd-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena; the No. 8 woman, Maria Sakkari,lost 6-4, 6-4 to the 71st-ranked Rebeka Masarova.

Sakkari said afterward she was bothered by the odor of marijuana in the air.

“The smell. Oh, my gosh,” Sakkari told the chair umpire in the first set. “It was weed.”

Rune had his own complaint — before the match.

The two-time major quarterfinalist, a 20-year-old considered part of the next generation of stars in men’s tennis, was not thrilled about being sent out to compete on Court 5, posting a map of the tournament grounds to help his supporters find the place.

“I just didn’t expect to play on that court,” Rune said afterward. “That’s obviously disappointing, but not going to blame the court on the loss.”

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