Grand Slam Wedding
In-Style Magazine, February 2000
by Lisa Simpson, photos by Simone & Martin
The courtship of champions: After only a nine-month romance and 16-week engagement Pete Sampras and Bridgette Wilson wed in an intimate backyard ceremony.
He has earned a record 13 Grand Slam tennis titles playing singles, but when it came time to wed actress Bridgette Wilson, seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras proved that he may even be more of a natural at doubles. In an emotional ceremony that included friends' children as well as relatives, a sentimental dance between Bridgette and her dad, and a nod by Pete to his Greek heritage, the focus was on celebrating family: Pete's, Bridgette's and the one they were forming together. And as befits a tennis hero and his actress bride, there was a showstopping suprise as well.
It all began in September 1999. Pete 29, had been dominating the tennis world for 10 years, but romantically he hadn't met his match. Then he spotted Wilson, 27, at an L.A.cinema. " I said to my friend, half-kidding, 'I'd love to meet her,'" recalls Pete. His pal got her number from a mutual friend, and the match was on.
When told about her famous admirer, Wilson had no idea who Pete Sampras was. " I had never watched tennis, so I wasn't familiar with him," she says, laughing. "But when I saw his picture, I was like, 'Oh yeah, he's a cutie.'"
At her sister's urging, Wilson accepted an invitation to dinner with Sampras - which she now calls "the closest thing to a blind date I've ever been on." (This was only after she was assured that the 6-foot-1-inch Sampras stood taller than her own 5 feet 9 inches).
Nine months later, on June 7, Sampras proposed with a platinum ring with oval-shaped diamond from Cartier. " I can't remember the exact day I knew she was the one; I remember it was an accumulation of what she's about, where she came from, and her family," says Sampras, who proposed at his Los Angeles home.
In the days after they became engaged, Bridgette had some experience playing a busy bride-to-be--not only was she planning her own wedding, but she had also just wrapped The Wedding Planner (due out in theaters in February 2001). Then she was cast in the series The Street and had to head to New York to shoot. Throw in Sampras's hectic tour schedule, and it became a major challenge to find a date to wed - and the time to plan the event. To the rescue came wedding coordinator Rob Smith of Laurels Custom Flora in Los Angeles, as well as Bridgette's sister and maid of honor, Tracy, both of whom helped the jet-setting lovebirds plan an intimate but elegant event in just six weeks.
" Tracy chose the invitations and tasted the food for me. I was like, if you think it tastes good, I will," says Wilson. "Bless her heart, she did so much for me, and Rob just worked magic to get it all done in time."
On September 30, as the sun set on a glorious California day, about 80 guests (mostly family members and a few close friends including Wayne Gretzky) gathered in Sampras' backyard, which had been converted into a dream-like setting with white chairs facing an archway covered in white flowers, and white candles and flowers floating in the pool.
Bridgette was also a vision in white, wearing a sleek georgette Vera Wang dress that had arrived by Fedex just the day before. After she and her father walked down the aisle to "The Wedding March", Pastor Tim Brueckner, a family from the Oregon Sunday school where Bridgette once taught and ran the nursery, performed the 20 minute ceremony. "The moment I loved was when I was walking down the aisle and I got to look Pete in the eye. And when he was repeating a few of the vows to me, I started to cry," recalls Wilson.
After Sampras and Wilson became Mr. and Mrs., guests enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and cocktails by the pool before entering a tent that transformed his tennis court into a romantic reception hall with flowers, chandeliers and mirrors. The newlyweds entered, then danced their first dance to "I know how the river feels" by Diamond Rio. Guests dined on risotto and fillet of beef, prepared by Joachim Splichal, the chef at L.A.'s Patina restaurant.
After dinner Pete had a surprised for his guests: Sir Elton John arrived by limo, sat down at the piano and played 45 minutes' worth of his greatest hits, ending with "Can you feel the love tonight". Even the bride was floored. "That's one of my most vivid memories of the wedding," she says.
Another emotional highlight for Bridgette was dancing with her father to " I love you enough to let you go" by Alabama. " I was crying my eyes out," she recalls. "It was that moment of acknowledging that he's trusting Pete to take care of me and the family we raise together."
After a dance-music group, the One o'clock band, began playing, the newly-weds took to the floor again, staying there until guests left at about midnight. At one point Sampras took a break to honor his own family's heritage: Following a Greek celebratory custom, " I cracked a plate into a number of pieces for good luck," he says. Guests left with a favor of Jordan almonds, another Greek tradition, as well as an Elton John CD.
Sampras may be used to being the centre of attention on centre court, but being the focus of friends and family on his wedding day was a different experience. "When you win matches, it's a short-lived high," he says. "This was something I was committing to for life. Tennis will one day stop, but I'll always have Bridgette. That's the biggest reward of all."