WASHINGTON, DC — It’s been a whirlwind month for 15-year-old American tennis sensation Coco Gauff, the former top-ranked junior player who captured the hearts of the sports world when she became the youngest player to ever qualify for the Wimbledon main draw, upset five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the first round, and then made it all the way to the fourth round before falling to eventual champion Simona Halep.
This week, Gauff was in the nation’s capital, where she qualified for the main draw of the WTA event at the Citi Open. Though she lost in the first round of the tournament to Zarina Diyas, Gauff got some news right after the loss that helped cheer her up immediately: Michelle Obama wanted to meet her.
“I was surprised that she wanted me to come to meet her,” Gauff told ThinkProgress on Friday night, after making it to the doubles final at the Citi Open with fellow American teenager Caty McNally. “I was so nervous. But she was so nice.”
Obama and Gauff met on Thursday, and exchanged gifts: Obama gave Gauff a signed copy of her best-selling book, “Becoming,” and Gauff gave the former First Lady a signed tennis racket. The two also had a time to talk about the pressures that come with being in the spotlight.
“She just told me to stay focused and stay calm, and that people aren’t going to like you all the time. And the same people that might be cheering for you might be the same people that might be pulling you down in the future,” Gauff said. “So she just told me just to only care really about the opinions of the people who actually love and care about me.”
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) August 1, 2019
Gauff is new to the spotlight, and said she wanted to get advice from someone who has experienced an immense amount of scrutiny, and handled it all with grace and composure.
“She was on like, one of the biggest platforms ever in the world. So I’m sure she’s heard some of the nastiest things,” Gauff said. “I was just kind-of trying to figure out, how does she handle that? Because I think, at least from the outside, it seems tough.”
On social media, Gauff wrote, “Today I got to meet my idol @MichelleObama. Her words and wisdom on my journey will stay with me on the court over the course of my career. She is a true inspiration. I have never arrived, I am always becoming! Thank you for your time.”
Gauff admitted on Friday that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind, but said she is happy that people are identifying with her journey, and that little girls are looking up to her.
“I’m happy that they see me as a role model,” she said. “And I hope that I can just be the best role model for them. I’m still learning life as well. So I guess they can learn as well from me.”