EDINBURG — In the early 1990s, Michel Fabry was one of the kings of the hard court.
Fabry, who swung the racket for the University of Texas Pan American from 1990-93, will be inducted into what is now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Athletics Hall of Fame at a special ceremony Saturday.
Fabry holds a remarkable string of records for the men’s tennis program, including career wins (189), career singles wins (105), single-season wins (60), singles wins (33) and doubles wins (30).
“I will always remember Michel as the greatest player I ever coached and he was one of the top team players as well,” his coach at what was then UTPA, David Cross, said. “He was a very classical player in terms of he played a little bit old school. He relied on strategy and finesse. Michel was a gamer.”
Like many European youngsters, Fabry started playing soccer, but his father, a tennis coach, soon introduced him to tennis. He was born and raised in Belgium where Cross had connections.
“A former player, Frank Vos, recommended him (Fabry) from having played him in Belgium in tournaments,” Cross, now retired, recalled. “As a result of that, I contacted an alumnus, Alfonso Gonzales. He lived and taught professionally in Belgium. He was a key in our recruitment of Belgian players.”
At one point, Cross had four Belgians on his men’s tennis team which was ranked among the nation’s top 40 programs in 1992.
“He (Gonzales) contacted Coach Cross, who ended up calling me and asking me about my results against two of his players from Belgium, Frank Vos and Laurent Jacquemn,” Fabry wrote in an email. “Coach Cross asked me if I was interested and ended up giving me a scholarship.”
Right away, Cross liked Fabry’s competitiveness and leadership.
“I would say the most outstanding thing was he played No. 1 (seed) every singles match of his career,” Cross said. “He was very mature when he got here (UTPA). Very selfless. He really lifted up the people around him.”
Fabry enjoyed doubles as much as singles. He won many matches in men’s doubles with playing partner Richard Mainella of Canada.
“I think we were a reasonably good team,” Fabry wrote. “(We were) Not the tallest players but we were both quick and handy and we understood each other on and off the court so it was a wonderful experience to be his doubles partner for the entire time.”
Fabry used a solid all-around game with quickness to win 57 matches in 1991 (third-most in program history) and 52 in 1992 (fourth-most). Teamed with Mainella, he won 24 matches in 1991 (third-highest doubles wins in a season) and 22 more in 1992 (fifth-highest).
He still holds fond memories of the 1993 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Tennis Tournament, where he was named the MVP. UTPA breezed by Western Kentucky in the first round, Fabry recalled, and then faced Southwestern Louisiana in a rematch from the previous year.
“We lost against them the year before,” Fabry recalled. “They had changed their lineup. I had beaten their No. 1, Greg Woods, easily and Richard (beat) their No. 2, John Phillips. So their coach had made the switch. I recall it being a tough match I had to play against Phillips, three hard sets. Richard beat their No. 2 Woods easily and I think it was 3-3 after singles. If I am not mistaken, Richard and I won the doubles for the deciding point.”
The title match would be between UTPA and South Alabama, one of the top programs in the country at the time.
“The final against South Alabama was a bit of a disappointment since I did not get to finish my match against their number one who was nationally ranked,” Fabry wrote. “All my teammates had lost so I had to stop my match while leading for the second year in a row, so that was a disappointment. However, receiving the individual award of Tournament MVP softened that pain a bit.”
Fabry was also named All-Sun Belt Conference for singles and doubles that year and became UTPA’s Student-Athlete of the Year for 1992-93. UTPA competed in the Sun Belt from 1991-98.
Fabry earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing plus an MBA. He lived in the Valley until 2001 before he moved back to Belgium. He now works as a sales representative for a tile producer just across the border in The Netherlands. He speaks English, French, Dutch and German.
Fabry will be the 10th individual men’s tennis player to be inducted into UTRGV’s Athletic Hall of Fame.