Fabián Gelibter. SUR
Fabián Gelibter, the pioneer of padel in Malaga
Padel tennis

Fabián Gelibter, the pioneer of padel in Malaga

He arrived from Argentina in 1988 and is credited with completely transforming the sport along the Costa del Sol

Marina Rivas


Monday, 27 May 2024, 12:33

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The year was 1988 and Malaga city was enjoying a golden age of sport, with Juanito playing for Club Deportivo Malaga in the First Division and Maristas and Caja de Ronda sharing the stage in the ACB.

There seemed to be no room for a sport unknown to the vast majority: padel tennis. But there was one man who was determined to make it known: Fabián Gelibter. He is the person who completely transformed the world of padel along the Costa del Sol.

Gelibter arrived in Malaga in 1988 with his family in search of a better life, tired of inflation and the economic decline of his home country, Argentina. With a degree in physical education in Buenos Aires, he worked both as a teacher and trainer of tennis players and, although he recognises that in those years paddle was already beginning to take off in his native country, he never got involved in it.

It was on his arrival in Spain when, as fate would have it, he got fully involved in the world of padel. However, it was not his initial intention. When he arrived here, his first job was at El Limonar, in what was previously known as Squash Malaga and became El Mayorazgo. There, he made his debut as a physical trainer for a squash team at the same time as giving gymnastics classes.

Friends in Marbella

The story began later: "I met some ladies who had friends in Marbella who were already playing padel. So they asked me if I could teach them how to play. I bought a racquet and a bag of balls and with that I started to give lessons," Gelibter said.

"Padel was totally unknown here," he said. Little by little, his passion for the sport awoke in him, to the point he then founded the first padel club in Malaga city, the Miraflores Club, in April 1993, which he built on abandoned facilities.

"I sold my house in Argentina to bring the money and reform the club completely. It was the first in the city," he said. He started giving lessons, organising tournaments and pools, he was also the first to install synthetic grass on the courts... and it was precisely at his club that he met a young woman with blue eyes and tremendous talent. The same one who today has become number three in the world: Bea González.

"She started when she was about eight years old. She lived opposite my club. I coached her for the first three years. She was so talented... She always came to train with a lot of enthusiasm. The first Spanish championship she went to, she won," Gelibter said.

Curiously, despite his lack of knowledge of the sport, the club did not take long to get off the ground. "At that time, my clientele was the most economically and socially select in Malaga. It was a sport for the posh at that time," Gelibter said. The image of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar playing the sport helped to boost it.

But his journey did not stop there, in 1995, Gelibter brought the first training course for coaches to Malaga, and also became an umpire in 1998, being the 13th in Spain to obtain the licence. He also created a company, ProSport, which organised adult and junior circuits in Andalucía and, when he finished at Miraflores, founded another club, in Rincón de la Victoria. But he took another turn in his life, this time in a different field: the insurance business. It is a profession that he now combines with padel. For the last four years, Gelibter has been travelling around the world giving padel training courses (for coaches, players and referees) in countries that want to start developing the sport.

Travelling the world

His services have been called upon in Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Denmark, Holland, Georgia, Croatia, Israel, China, and he has even been called to go to the Congo and the Philippines. Gelibter has experienced absolutely everything, but he did not expect that, at 63, he would be appointed national coach of Turkey, something that was forged on his recent visit to Anatolia, when he went to take some courses. "I love it because we are starting to build up from the foundations. I find it very exciting, we are creating the whole federation and we are also going to take the men's team to the Pre-European Championship in Oslo (in June)."

"Turkey is a spectacular country and the people are very hospitable. For now, we have created a selection with the players who had a visa for the Schengen area and I would say that they are at the level of the top third here, but they have a lot of ambition to learn and grow," Gelibter said.

He is living a dream, helping to spread the sport of his life around the world. "I'm sorry I'm 63 years old. I'm going to miss out on seeing this expansion," he said, but is consoled when he looks back and sees that he has been part of the history of provincial paddle: "Malaga is a world pioneer in padel, the big boom was between 2000-2005, it grew a lot and then went through a downturn coinciding with the crisis, clubs closed... There was an oversupply, but then it picked up again with the pandemic and now it has stabilised," he said. "Paddle is destined to succeed, everyone likes to play padel, it is the fastest growing sport in the world today," he added.

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