Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands to watch two first-round matches at the US Open on Monday night in New York.
American Coco Gauff notched a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Laura Siegemund with no idea the couple were in the audience. She knew there would be a high-profile spectator, though.
“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,” she said at her post-match news conference. “I didn’t see them in the presidential box. 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.”
During the match, the 19-year-old was forced to confront chair umpire Marijana Veljovic as Siegemund flirted with time violations and repeatedly struggled to keep pace with Gauff's service game. But the Obamas were the perfect unexpected surprise to boost Gauff's mood after the match against the German opponent who tested her patience.
“Then Mr. Obama was there in the room, too. I was like, ‘Oh, my God,' ” she said with a big smile. “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.”
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,” Gauff said.
Michelle Obama is no stranger to the US Open. She attended the tournament last year when she saw American Frances Tiafoe play during his run to the semifinals.
After watching the 2022 French Open runner-up, Obama took to the court to introduce tennis legend Billie Jean King ahead of a tribute. The opening-night ceremony marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Open becoming the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to pay equal prize money to women.
"Let us remember, all of this is far bigger than a champion's paycheck," Obama said at the podium. "This is about how women are seen and valued in this world. We have seen how quickly progress like this can be taken away if we are not mindful and vigilant, if we do not keep remembering and advocating and organizing and speaking out and, yes, voting."
Twenty-three-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic was the next to play at Ashe. The Obamas stayed to watch him, cheering as he cruised in his first US Open match since the 2021 final with a 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Alexandre Muller of France.
Djokovic was not allowed to travel to the United States last year because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. He made his return in front of a record crowd of over 30,000 people.