Off Court

What it's Like to be Mrs. Sampras

"We are," says Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, "just wildly normal." Normal in this context is a relative concept. The Sampras clan - actress Bridgette, 32, tennis legend Pete, 34, and their two children Christian Charles, three, and Ryan Nikolaos, four months - live in LA where Bridgette divides her time between family, filming - her latest role is in the classy ensemble piece, Shopgirl, with Steve Martin and Claire Danes - and charity work. A glamorous version of ordinary, but compared to Bridgette's life two years ago, it's the essence of normality.

When they met in 1999, Bridgette was building up her acting CV and Pete had spent six years as the world's number one tennis player. When he spotted the actress on screen, he jokingly commented that he'd love a date with her. One of his friends knew her publicist, who called Bridgette and told her a "great guy" was keen to take her for a drink. Having ascertained that he was taller than her (she's 5ft 9in tall), Bridgette went, even though she had no idea who he was: "I think I was the only person who didn't"

Eager to correct her tennis-related ignorance, Bridgette decided to take two years off to travel the world with Pete. "I knew he wouldn't play forever and I wanted to know what that part of his life was like." She swapped LA for the life of a tennis pro's partner: a different city and hotel every week, constant movement between time zones. "I was an insomniac, so I manage well on little sleep." Fortunately, Pete had a support team - from his coach to his stringer, Nate (Pete was one of the few players to hire somebody to string racquets for him alone), "It was a small community of people travelling from place to place. In every city Nate and I would find a gym to join for that week."

When Pete retired from tennis in August 2003 (having won his 14th Grand Slam title in 2002), it removed the structure that had shaped their lives. "It was a shock to the system. Pete hasn't played since. He needed time to shut down completely. He says he was programmed - every time he picked up a tennis racquet, he did it to win; he never played for fun. So he had no need to play once he retired. Now I think he could let himself enjoy it and not have that single-minded focus." Perhaps he'll even have a knockabout with his wife and children one day? "I hope so!"

Pete's getting used to holding the baby, rather than a racquet. Before motherhood, Bridgette had built up a portfolio of acting roles, including Last Action Hero and The Wedding Planner (which she filmed while planning her own wedding). After Christian's birth, she had a call from Steve Martin, saying she was perfect for Shopgirl (he adapted it from his novella). She accepted without even reading the script - and was daunted to discover she had what she ominously refers to as "a lingerie scene". "After I had Christian, I never got back to my old weight, so I really started to work out." What did Pete think of his wife doing a lingerie scene? "He said, 'A what?'" laughs Bridgette. "He was fine with it. When he went to a screening he was like, 'Whoa, honey, can you bring that home?'"

She loves her career, but family is Bridgette's priority. Despite working in a profession in which the plum roles are snapped up by ever-younger women, she's unconcerned about taking time out: "My mother stayed home and raised my sister and me - it seems so normal, it's hard to make the decision to go back to work. I don't want to miss anything. My anxiety comes from that, not from 'When will I work again?'"

When the right projects do come along, 'having someone who's willing to support you makes it an option.' Their mutual respect and affection is manifest, and they try to make time for themselves. "Pete would give a different answer. I'd say we do it well, and he'd say, 'We do?' But one night a week we have dinner together, or an afternoon when it's just the two of us. Last night we were talking until one in the morning and I said, 'Pete, I've got to go to bed, Ryan'll be up at two for a bottle.'" Bottles could be the one thorny issue in an otherwise blissfully equitable relationship. "I tease Pete: 'For tennis you deal with time changes, but getting up early for a bottle, you're too tired. How does that work?'"

Teasing aside, it works because they are evenly balanced. Pete's delighted with his wife's success. "He says, 'I used to be Pete Sampras the tennis player, now I'm just Pete, Bridgette's husband.'"

Thanks to Samprasfanz member Patricia for the article.

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