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Close Encounter with Pete Sampras

Event: Tim & Tom Gullikson Charity Tournament
Location: SMU, Dallas
Date: July 19, 2002

This past June of 2002, I attended a tennis camp at SMU. After the week long camp, coach Carl Neufled, SMU’s mens tennis coach told me that SMU was hosting a charity tournament for the Tim and Tom Gullikson Foundation and Pete Sampras would be playing Andy Roddick. At first I thought,"Yeah sure - if so, email me when that happens." Three weeks later I received an email asking if I would like to be a ball girl.

I was being invited to be a ball girl at a charity match featuring tennis’s greatest champion, Pete Sampras and its newest star, Andy Roddick on Friday, July 19th 2002. It was a once in a lifetime event. KAMR Channel 4 news in Amarillo got word of it and that I was the only tennis player from Amarillo getting to go so they planned to do a sports story on my experience. I was totally excited. They hired a videographer to be at the event to get footage of me being there. I went to Dallas on Thursday and awaited the big day.

Friday arrived. Finally. My mom flew in at about 2pm from Amarillo. We tried to rest a bit, but I was getting more anxious and hyper as each hour passed. Finally, Mom and I went to SMU. I was so excited and very nervous.

My mom and I got there, we checked out the arena and where the court was. I saw there were people playing on it. I knew it wasn’t Pete or Andy, so I used my ball girl excuse to go down onto the court. I watched the people play and they weren’t very good. I had brought my racket, just in case and took it out of its bag, hoping to get a chance to play with these guys. The people that were playing came up to me and said, "You play tennis, don’t you?" I smiled and nodded, "Yes, I do. What are you guys doing?" I asked them, curious to know why they were on the court. "Well I’m Sampras’s celebrity doubles partner, and I’ve only been playing for a week. Where do I stand when he serves?" I looked at him and just decided to get on the court anyway, knowing they needed my help. "Okay, um let me show you because, you don’t want to not know what your doing in front of Pete Sampras." So I hit with them for 45 minutes, gave them some tips and wished them luck then went to go meet coach Neufeld to get my ball girl shirt and some final instructions.

Coach Neufeld handed out the t-shirts and then came up to all of the ball girls and said to us, "Okay look, we need two of you to be sitting with the players. Get them towels, Powerades, whatever. Just to be on the court with them at all times. Who wants to do it?" I look at him, blankly. A certain look in my eyes. This is not a hard decision here! I flew here. I have a news crew here. Coach Neufeld smiled and chose me and a girl named Ariel that had been attending the camp for years. Ariel calls out, "I call Roddick!" I shout back, "I call Sampras!". I run over to my mom and tell her that I’m going to be sitting with Pete Sampras instead of chasing balls down and she flips out. I then realize it myself. Me, Megan Martin will be sitting with the most respected tennis player of all time. Oh .My. Gosh.

Showtime! Ariel and I go out there. The arena that can hold 8,000 people is only about half full, still a lot of people. We get out there and we realize that we don’t know which side Andy or Pete will be sitting on, so we just take a seat, guessing. Music is playing, noise is everywhere, people are filing in and I just think, "I am on the court, on the bench, I have the best seat in the house!" I saw my mom over with my grandparents in baseline court level box seats and I wave. It was a very humbling moment for me because I couldn’t believe my luck and that in a few short minutes I would meet Pete Sampras, the person I’ve watched since I was three years old. I knew that this was it. This was my one and only chance to ever be this close to him. I knew I had to make it special. It was never going to happen again.

After a short set with SMU players, they announced Andy Roddick. The announcer reads off his achievements and the crowd goes wild. I stand up and start clapping, smiling from ear to ear, not believing I was there. Andy and I have eye contact as he walks out onto the court. He walks right over to me. I look over at him, smile my most winning smile and say, "Hey Andy, I’m Megan nice to meet you!". He smiles and shakes my hand, "Hey Megan, nice to meet you too." We spoke!

And then they start to announce all of Pete Sampras’s achievements. I look over at Andy with and expressions of like, "We could be here for a while" and he grins, doing a slight roll of the eyes as in, "I know." People start standing and I don’t hesitate at all. I stand up clapping as a smile spreads as far as it can across my face, watching Greatness walk out. He was real, right in front of me. I’m completely in the moment by now. I even got a bit teary eyed but it passed. He sets his stuff down on Ariel’s side and meets Andy at net for the coin toss, to see who would serve first. Now, somehow Pete ends up on my side of the court. They ask everyone to stand for the National Anthem and Pete backs up, now he is only three feet in front of me. I put my hand over my heart and hum the tune....with a small step forward. I continue singing and then take another step closer. Now I’m at his side. I’m eyeing him in the corner of my eye while thinking, "He’s right there!". Anyway they return to their seats and I sit down by Andy, and the first set begins.

I watch with complete enthusiasm and awe, totally living in the pure perfection of all that was happening to me. Andy would come back for change over and I would not know what to say to him! I had been preparing stuff to say to Pete, and was completely clueless when it came to Andy. But I did ask him if the Powerade commercial he did, when he puts the tennis ball into the clay court with his serve, I asked if he actually did that. He smiled and said, "Between you and me, it was all fake. But that will be our little secret." I smile and nod, "Ooh okay. But you know, I wouldn’t have been surprised if you actually did do that." He smiles and towels off, then says with a boyish grin, "I would!". I laughed and continued watching, having the time of my life. As Andy played a point, I turned to some guys behind me and asked if they had any paper. I had two tennis balls and a pen that I hoped to later get signed. I tore off some paper and wrote, "Andy, I enjoyed watching you play. Good luck in the future! Call if ever in Texas! Megan Martin (phone number)" Folded that sucker up, and put it in his open tennis bag. He hasn’t called yet, but then again he is playing in the Open.

The first set went to Sampras. 7-5. I now knew I had to go sit with my idol. I shook Andy’s hand, told him it was nice meeting him but that I was going to go sit with Pete now! I was then walking toward The Legend. I sit down, totally excited and nervous as ever. Silence goes between us, and I turn to him after a few moments and say, "Hi Pete, I’m Megan. It’s very nice to meet you." He shakes my hand and smiles. He then gets up to go play, while I’m thinking of what could be something I could say that may get him to talk. I decided to ask about his wife, Bridgette.

He returns after a few games and I ask, "So, is Bridgette here?" Pete smiles and shakes his head, "No she couldn’t make it this trip." I nod, thinking as fast as I could. "Oh. Well that’s too bad. I kinda wanted to meet her. Tell her I say hi!" He looked at me with an amused smile and said, "I will." A few more moments go by and I’m starting to feel like an idiot when Pete says, "So you a big tennis fan?" I whipped my head over at hi m, in shock that he spoke to me, not being able to think fast enough as I blurt out excitedly, "Oh yes! I play!" He smiles and nods. I added in, "I’m actually trying to make varsity." He gets up and says, "Well good luck."

He then goes to start the second set as I sit there, amazed we even exchanged words. I watched his grace on the court, in awe of how much better it is to watch it live then on TV. His movement on the court and his technique is just incredible. Then, he breaks a string and comes over, hands me his racket, grabs another one and goes off to go back to the match. Angelic music is playing in my head as I hold Pete Sampras’s racquet. I examine it, hold it, feel it, touch it. I remember that his strings were extremely tight and that I was now on cloud 100. Later on, he came back for change over and said to me, "You’re kind of holding onto my racquet like it’s your life or something.." I froze. Then start talking 100mph. "Oh no, no! I’m sorry. I mean, I was just holding it. It was broken, I didn’t think you would mind..." He smiles, trying to reassure me by saying, "No, no it’s fine. I just don’t want you to take it or anything." I gasped, slightly insulted that he would think that. I try to explain myself, fearing I was getting on his bad list. "Oh no, no! Of course not! No, I’d never do that. I was just holding it. If it bothers you that much, here." He laughs at me and walks back out on the court. I assume he was okay cause he won that game.

And so I’m sitting there, completely freaking out, still holding onto the racket. As he plays, I cheer and holler for him, cheering "Go Pete! Come on!" and so on. He comes back after awhile and I pat his shoulder, "Great job Pete. That was so awesome. Keep it up and you can take this set. I know you can do it. Just keep your head up." He nods while saying, "I’m trying." I didn’t really know what to say to that so I just nodded and said, "Well keep it up, you can do it!" Off he goes again.

He wins that game and it continues on like that until the next change over and I waited a few moments before turning to him and saying, "Uh, Pete.. um okay..you see.. I’m from Amarillo.." He turns and raises his eyebrows, surprised. I continue, "Yeah and this kind of thing does not happen in Amarillo, and so the local news is doing a story on me being able to be here and do this and so I have my own news crew which is right over there..." I point across the court to my crew as Pete looks over and nods, glances at me. "And my mom is here too!" I point her out to him and he looks over at her as I start rambling off subject, "She’s over there. She’s been watching your career since it started, and she had me watching you play before I even played.. ha.before I even understood tennis! Which is why I’m just so honored to meet you because you’re my idol. But um, anyway, I was wondering instead of doing a picture or autograph later on, maybe you could say something my crew with me so all my friends and family can believe I’m actually here." Pete smiles at me and says, "Tell you what, you get them over here I will do it for you." I look at him shocked, and amazed at what is taking place. "Really!? Okay!!"

He gets up and walks right over to where my mom is and says to her from the court, "She’s cute. A little chatty..." My mom cringes as in, "I’m sorry!" he laughs, "No, no it’s sweet." And then goes to play and serves an ace. After that, I make my crew come around to my side for later on.

Pete is now losing the second set. He comes back and I’m trying to pump him up, "Okay Pete, you can’t just give this set to him. You can do this, I know you can!" He turns and looks over at me and says simply, "Well I hurt my leg." He keeps looking at me, waiting for me to respond. Now I on the other hand, don’t know what to say to that. Is he kidding? Do I get him an ice pack? Do I nod and shut up? What do I do? There is this moment where we just stare at each other, looking the other in the eyes. My mind is wheeling in confusion and blankness for what seems like forever when I finally blurt out to the greatest tennis player of all time, "Excuses don’t count!!".

He bursts out into laugher, "I like that! I like that!". Meanwhile, I’m sitting there thinking, "Did I just SAY that??" I pump him up some more and he walks back onto the court.

Minutes go by and he is now really losing. He comes back for the next change over and I just sit there. I have no idea what to say. What DO you say to Pete Sampras when he’s losing? I knew it’d be best if I just shut up and not risk anything. I’m sitting there, pretty quiet when Pete turns to me and says softly, "Got any advice?". My thought process now goes flat line. Did Pete Sampras just ask ME for advice?! I stumbled over my words, trying not to sound like an idiot. "Wow.. um.. well.. I’d go to net more.." I’m praying that I’m saying the right things and that he doesn’t see that I’m just saying whatever is coming to my head. I go on, "I would um.. Put more power on your second serve." I try to think of one more thing, something easy but helpful and I turn to him, gave him a supportive smile and ended with, "And be positive!" He looks at me in a short glance, smiles a small smile and says "Okay." He gets up to play the rest of the match. I pat his shoulder and pump my fist at him and start cheering, "Come on Pete!".

He ended up winning that game with an incredible shot that was just amazing and I leapt up and out of my seat, screaming "YES!" and Pete looked over at me while walking back to the baseline and pumps his fist right back at me. It was as if we were a team! And I felt like a million bucks.

Pete ended up losing the match. 7-5, 3-6, 4-6. I was becoming sad as I realized my fairytale night was drawing to an end. He came over to sit and I told him that he played well and that I was very honored to have been able to sit and talk with him, I thanked him. He smiled and nodded, getting up to say a few words to the crowd after the match. Pete thanked them for coming out and supporting the foundation. After that, he came back and took his racquet that I had still been holding up until that point. He turns to me and asks, "Do you want my shirt?" I don’t even have to think for that one! "Yeah sure!" and I laugh. I sit down with him and in front of 8,032 people Pete Sampras strips off his sweaty, played in shirt and hands it to me!

I look at him in shock and say, "Are you serious!?" I couldn’t believe he did that! Pete has never given away anything before. "Yeah, keep it. I have others." I gasp, totally at a loss for words. "Thank you! Wow!" He puts on a clean, dry shirt and then signs the back of my shirt that I was wearing. I ran over to get Andy to sign the back of my shirt also.

He played a celebrity doubles match with those guys I told you about earlier. Sampras and his guy, the one I played with, won. Pete was getting ready to leave and I reminded him, "Pete, what about my crew?" He looked at me with a look of apologies. Disappointment came over me. "I really have to.. Oh okay, we’ll do it really quick." I lit up as he guided me to my TV crew people who were standing and ready, Pete says to the camera. "She was a great little cheerleader.." Pete signs the front of my shirt for a second time on camera while continuing, "She gave me a lot of great advice.. Amarillo should be very proud of this little girl." I hugged him, smiling widely and silently melted inside. Wow.

And off he went.

The next morning I was back in Amarillo, flying high. I logged onto Pete’s web site and I found out that two days before the event, he had fired his coach. It then clicks in my head. His wife, Bridgette, who is his motivator at most of his matches wasn’t there, his coach wasn’t there. He was there all by himself. And the only one who had his ear...was me.

The thought humbled me for a moment. I think to myself that he must have really needed to hear a lot of what I had the courage to say. Be positive. Excuses don’t count. Go to net more. More power on your second serve. You can do this. We’re all here to see you.

But I knew during that whole night that I would never ever get that chance again. I knew that this was it. I wasn’t going to just let it go by and live to regret saying something. I think life gives you those moments, and you either have to take it and make your own memory out of it, or it passes you by like it barely existed and you live to regret it your whole life with a bunch of wouldas couldas, and shouldas. I made a memory that will last for all time. I have a tape of it. I have Pete Sampras’s shirt in my room now. I have my signed shirt and some posters he and Andy signed. But most of all, and most importantly I have a memory that will live forever in my heart. I had a night many fans and tennis players never get in their lives. I feel truly blessed to have gotten that amazing opportunity. I will never ever forget it. It was the best night of my entire life.


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