In the first paddle court that Fernando Belasteguín stepped on (Pehuajó, Buenos Aires, 1979), the spectators were the chickens of one of their neighbors. The same gate that put an end to the track was at the same time bordering on the land of the animal owner. A few years later, that boy who loved football ended up choosing the paddle, and the paddle chose him: with 22 years he became the youngest number 1 in history, position in which he stayed for 16 years and 8 months .

Now, after about 40 springs in which the majority would already be observing the withdrawal, Bela has decided to try to recover the world throne with Agustín Tapia , who doubles in age. It is the last challenge of a player who has lived from the top the worst and the best of the paddle, the emptiness of years ago and the explosion in the last five years, with the World Padel Tour growing by leaps and bounds.

«Being with Augustine has given me back the tickle to my belly. I have recovered energy, ”he explains to EL MUNDO. "I want to play until I see that I have no chance of winning." And, for now, he still has it: the couple won at the Masters in Madrid and will play the Damm Star Barcelona Final Master that takes place from Thursday to Sunday at the Palau Sant Jordi.

Someone who is more than 16 years at the helm of the world ranking of a sport could get tired of winning. You can even believe something far beyond what it really is. Something that has not happened to him, on the contrary: «Sometimes athletes are greatly magnified. Tomorrow I break my legs and I am nothing. My son had to operate from the heart after birth and for me that doctor was God, the most important person in the world because he was going to save my son. They save lives every day and do not sign autographs or give interviews.

That's why he doesn't put his trophies in a visible area of ​​his house: «You enter through the door and you don't know if I play paddle tennis or what I do. I don't want my children to grow up in the environment of the champion's son. I have a time limit as a paddle player, but father I will always be. My wife works as a dentist and does not hang a diploma saying that today she has placed four spectacular implants ».

You have to be a little crazy to endure so much time at the top of a sport, don't you? I don't believe in the one who says he gets tired of winning. "I prefer to play nice to win," he says. That is what the one who has never won tells you. The feeling of being number 1 in something is addictive. How many people want to retire Bela? "" Surely a lot (laughs). After such a hegemony, I have gone to play sites and since the first game they wanted me to lose, it is logical. I also go with the weak. In sport, it is normal to lose, the exceptional thing is to win. I look back and I have become normal the exceptional. I realize the magnitude of things when I'm with boys of 30, and I think, I've been number one since your 12-14 years (laughs). They will always have me there giving them war. Don't you have a bit of rockstar? The people of the paddle have a lot of love for me, and people from other activities, they know and respect you, but I go to Argentina or here and I'm not A rockstar, far from it. If you want we go on foot for a while and you will see how many stop us to take pictures (laughs). Nothing would happen!

For Bela, the growth of paddle tennis in the near future is based on «practicing it in schools», «teaching a beautiful product on television» and «caring for the player». "The nickname of being a sneaker sport has been taken away, I think, and courts have been placed everywhere," he explains.

How well can you live with paddle tennis? It's like everything, it depends on the economic needs or obligations that each one puts on. I am a most austere person possible. I come from a humble family and have taught me to be happy with very little. Padel is growing more and more, but today a padel player has to continue working the rest of his life after retiring. I have three children and if they tell me they want to be professional padel players, I would tell them the reality, I would support them, but they have to be aware. It is a sport that does not stop growing and is better than 5 or 10 years ago. But I tell you that today we are very poorly paid compared to what I want the paddle to be in 5 or 10 years. I think that in the professional paddle the most important thing is the player, and you have to take care of it. Without him there is nothing. The sport improves if the player improves. You have more income, you are more independent, you take care of yourself more, you train more and the sport is better. Those who play World Padel Tour, do they have another job besides paddle tennis? Perhaps a single boy does not need to work. But if I were 30th in the world right now I would have to work. Whoever wins a WPT tournament earns 9,000 euros gross each, discount taxes ... Winning, huh. The finalist, 5,000, semifinalist, 2,500, quarterfinals, 1,800, and there you are among the eight best in the world. If you lose in the first round, you get 1,000 euros gross. I have sponsors, but others don't. At the prize level it is made for four ... What was the first thing you won for a tournament? I don't even remember. If I needed it for life, I spent it, if not, I'm very austere. I worry that the ones I want are fine. If you ask me what I would need to be the happiest in the world, I would say a mate with my friends and family.

Every day more athletes from other disciplines practice paddle tennis, including former soccer players like Carles Puyol, Bela's good friend. Andrés Iniesta, for example, wrote the prologue of the book that the Argentine published. "A journalist came and told me that he would like to write my story. I said no, that he was not going to sell a book because nobody knew me (laughs). He insisted and we did it. We took out a 100% solidarity book , with a preface by Iniesta and a lot has been sold. When my children grow up they will see their father's story. "

Don't hang your trophies, austere ... Would you have been the same if you had triumphed in another sport? In football, for example, I defend the players to full . We have heard that football players are uneducated, that they do things that they should not ... Until you live in their world, in the football player's environment, you have to be cautious when talking about them. Not even the most educated and prepared person is able to live what these kids live. When I lived in Madrid, I was with Maxi (Rodríguez) and Agüero all day. What you see, the things they offer them, the power they have with 18 years ... They are millionaires, celebrities, and not even the person who went to the best school in the world is prepared for that. In sports, the destructive criticism of envy is very strong until it is your turn. So I do not know, if I had been a footballer and had touched a golden boot I do not know if I had hung it in my house. Who is the best with the shovel? I know that Toni Jiménez, who is now Pocchetino's assistant, plays well . Puyi has room to improve (laughs) and Iniesta is smart. The one that comes from another sport has a rustic style but is super competitive, they pass it to you anyway because they want to win.

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