By Lyndon Stambler Maureen Harrington Lorenzo Benet
October 16, 2000 12:00 PM

It’s tough to come up with the perfect wedding present for a multimillionaire tennis star like Pete Sampras, whose titles have already left him with an embarrassment of silver trophies, cups and platters. But trust a pal to rise to the challenge. As the 81 guests in the backyard of Sampras’s Benedict Canyon home for his twilight wedding to actress Bridgette Wilson on Sept. 30 were savoring the last morsels of their dessert, the groom had an announcement. “I have a friend who is nice enough to come by and play a few songs for us,” said Sampras, 29. Then he introduced Elton John.

With that, John, a fervent tennis fan, took his seat at the piano on a small stage and treated the guests, including hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and his wife, Janet Jones, to a 45-minute greatest-hits medley. John ended his set with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” which he introduced by observing, “This is kind of a schmaltzy song—but this is a wedding.” Then he slipped away into a waiting limo. “That was pretty incredible,” said guest Mike Ovitz, whose management company represents Sampras. “It was a lovely, intimate evening of celebration.” That’s just the way the couple wanted it, according to Wilson’s sister Tracy, 29, the maid of honor. “The whole point,” she had said earlier, was “to be as private and special as possible.”

The wedding succeeded on both counts. The stucco walls and lush foliage surrounding Sampras’s home provided a natural screen for the nuptials. And the tone of the evening was as elegant yet understated as the groom’s Armani tux and the 27-year-old bride’s ivory silk georgette bias gown by Vera Wang, which Wilson accented with $400,000 in diamonds lent by jeweler Fred Leighton.

As a sliver of moon shone over Sampras’s yard, the couple’s family and close friends took their seats for the service in a narrow garden bordered by rose bushes. “Bridgette was as radiant as the white roses,” says Sampras’s longtime friend David Higdon, an executive on the men’s pro-tennis tour. “During the ceremony she was dabbing at tears pretty much the whole time.”

For the reception, the couple and their guests retired to a tented ballroom erected over Sampras’s tennis court, where they enjoyed a supper that included filet of beef with artichokes and au gratin potatoes. After Elton John’s set and the serving of the three-tiered white buttercream-iced cake, Sampras, in a nod to his Greek heritage, smashed a plate for luck. Then, as an R & B band kicked in, the newlyweds danced and danced—and danced some more. In fact, though the pair were about to depart for a weeklong Mexican honeymoon before the bride begins filming her new FOX-TV series, The Street, in New York, “Pete was one of the last ones to leave the dance floor,” says Higdon. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the guy as content and as happy.”

Lyndon Stambler, Maureen Harrington and Lorenzo Benet in Los Angeles