Close Encounter with Pete Sampras
Location: Lipton Tournament (Key Biscayne, FL)
Date: March, 1996
I have been VERY fortunate when it comes to Pete. At the Lipton, I found out where the players come out after the matches and waited for Pete there. The crowd waiting wasn't large, unlike the New York crowds.
I waited patiently and sure enough, after his shower and interviews with the press, Pete came out of the tunnel where they had backed his complimentary Benz for him. There he was, larger than life. He was smiling, relaxed, laughing out loud, and very happy!!! He was absolutely adorable.
The crowd was yelling at him to please sign whatever they had with them. We were all above him hanging over the railing to try to reach down to him. I was, quite honestly, star struck and just watched for some time. I had a very good spot though, right up against the railing and he worked his way down towards me.
I handed down to him my sun visor and he signed it. I said "Thank You Pete" and he looked up and smiled. I think he was kind of taken off guard that someone actually said "Thank You!” Mine was the last one he signed before he got into his car and drove off. Needless to say, I was thrilled.
Location: Advanta Tournament (Philadelphia, PA)
Date: February, 1999
The best encounter I ever had with Pete was in Philadelphia. We always bought box seats and if you did that you were invited to a "Kick-Off" party the night before the tournament began.
The last two years we had the opportunity to meet some of the players at this party/reception. The first year, not too many of them showed. The second year, it was mandatory for them to at least show their faces. We arrived and mingled with the crowd and patiently waited for the players to arrive.
They soon announced the players were there and everyone went to gathered around the platform. Our table was right up front and a bit off to the right. It turned out we were right off the kitchen doors that the players came through. I looked up and there he stood, Pete Sampras, no more than 5 feet away from me.
I'll never forget what he had on. He was wearing blue jeans, brown suede shoes, a Ralph Lauren looking shirt and a green RL jacket. He had his five o'clock shadow going and a big smile on his face. He was striking! He looks sooooo different when he isn't playing!!! So relaxed, so happy.
They announced all the players one by one and he was saved for last so I had a long time to gaze in his direction. When they announced Pete, the place went up in a roar. The woman running the whole show then said to please come up, greet the players, and give them a warm Philadelphia welcome. My eyes were on Pete the whole time.
I had a Tennis Magazine in the car and brought it along just in case I'd have the opportunity to get Pete's autograph. I found his Milk Ad in the magazine and thought how nice it would be to have Pete sign that for me.
He went over the to woman who had announced all the players, leaned down and whispered something in her ear. She shook her head, smiled at him and shook his hand. He then started toward the back of the room, bypassing all the food and drinks. I knew he was heading for the door and I was in hot pursuit.
Fortunately, he had to stop at the door to ask directions back to the lobby. That gave me time to catch up to him. I heard him ask for directions, waited until he finished then tapped him on the back of his left shoulder. He turned around, smiled and I said, "Hi Pete! Could you PLEASE sign this for me?" I held up the picture of him with his milk mustache. He smiled again, said "Sure!" and signed the picture for me. He handed it back to me, I thanked him and he said "Oh, you're welcome!" And off he went! Don't know where he was going and why he didn't stay at the reception, but I was the only one who realized he was leaving, the only one who got to talk to him, and the only one who got his autograph.
After my knees stopped shaking and my legs didn't seem like jelly anymore, I walked back to our table, sat down and gazed at my autographed picture of Pete. My husband asked what happened and where Pete went and I filled him in. He just laughed and said he wasn't surprised that I knew he was gone and had managed to get his autograph before he left! That was my best encounter with Pete. Very brief, but one on one and something I will remember for the rest of my life!!!
I've been a Sampras fan since he came on the scene. In fact, he always used to say when he was in Philly, that Philadelphia always held a special place in his heart as that is where he won his very first title after he turned pro. That's why he came back there every year, even when the city didn't support the tournament. He only stopped coming when the tournament was cancelled. What a tragedy that was for us tennis/Sampras fans. We miss Pete in Philly!!!!!
Location: Ericsson Tournament (Key Biscayne, FL)
Date: March 26, 2000
On the evening of the Vinciguerra match, my husband and I went to a small Italian restaurant across the street from our hotel in Coconut Grove. We were sitting outside, right by the railing. We had ordered and were just sitting there talking when I thought I was hallucinating!!!
I saw Pete Sampras walking down the steps and heading directly toward us! My mouth dropped and all I said was "Oh my God!" My husband asked what was wrong and I said, "Pete is walking right toward us!"
He turned and by then, Pete was right by us. I said, "Hi Pete!" He said "Hello" back. I said, "Tough match out there today!" He actually stopped right in front of us and talked with us. He said, "Yeah, a lot tougher than I wanted it to be!" He laughed when he said that. His smile was positively radiant!!!
I said, "How are you feeling? Are you feeling better?" Pete said, "MUCH better thank you, much better!"
My husband wished him luck and said we were really pulling for him to win the tournament. Pete said, "Thank you very much." As he turned to walk away, I said, "Good luck Pete!" And he turned again to thank us.
It was WONDERFUL!!! He was so kind, so gracious, and soooooo gorgeous! He was relaxed, happy, smiling, and very content. I must add that he also had Bridgette on his arm. She smiled and kind of moved behind him when we were talking. Almost as though she knew the moment was all about him, not her.
As they left and were walking up the sidewalk together, she was snuggling very close to him and they looked very happy. About 5 minutes later, he was across the street paying a parking lot attendant and they both got into a black Mercedes SUV and drove away.
I couldn't believe my good fortune to be at the right place at the right time. And I can't stress enough how gracious Pete was. He didn't have to stop and talk to us, but he did and he was very nice about it. This is a memory of Pete that I will treasure for the rest of my life!!!
Location: Saddlebrook, Tampa
Date: When Pete still lives in Tampa a few years ago
I have been told by close friends who watched Pete practice many times at Saddlebrook in Tampa that he is quite a different person when practicing in private. I was told he was very expressive and showed his emotions quite freely. Not that he was abusive or offensive, just a normal guy out on the courts. They said he was always very competitive too and NEVER liked to lose when he was playing Courier or Rudseski in practice sessions.
My Godson, Lance also took lessons at Saddlebrook and got to know Pete. The first time he called Lance by his first name, Lance nearly died! He considered it the ultimate compliment that Pete would have said hello to him and called him by name.
Lance also had a black Mustange that he had an unbelievable stereo system put into. When Pete found out it was Lance's car, he asked him where he had the work done and they went out to the parking lot to look in Lance's car. Lance offered Pete the opportunity to sit in his car and listen to the sound system but Pete declined saying, "No thanks. I'd love to but as soon as people see me sitting in your car they'll be coming up and trying to talk to me and get my autograph and I don't want anything to happen to your car. It could get scratched or something and I wouldn't want that to happen."
Lance also has had lunch with Pete. He just thinks the world of Pete. I always used to tease him and say geez Lance, I'm your Godmother, can't you get me an autograph? Lance would always say, "Oh, I couldn't ask Pete for his autograph. That would be very disrespectful. He calls me by name and I would never do anything to jeopardize that."
Lance said one time the trainer there was working on him when Pete came in. Pete must have been early and the trainer said he'd by right with him as soon as he was done with Lance. Lance said Pete was perfectly fine with that and didn't expect any special treatment because he was Pete Sampras. He waited his turn and even took the time to talk to Lance and ask how he was doing. By now, Lance had the opportunity to see Pete on a daily basis when he was at Saddlebrook and he never had anything but praise for him. He said when he would watch him practice, he just couldn't believe the shots he could make. And that he made them with such ease. He said the the untrained tennis eye just doesn't appreciate how talented and gifted Pete is. He always said Pete wasn't perfect and sometimes lost his temper on the courts, but never showed any anger or aggression toward anyone other than himself. He would attempt to avoid as much attention as possible and avoid the "everyday groopies" that hounded him day in and day out, but he was never rude to anyone.