Is this new racquet sport loved by Murray and Beckham the future?

The world’s fastest-growing racket sport PADEL is beloved by posh people and celebrities from David Beckham to Andy Murray and dates back to 19th century everything you need to know about the new craze with already 25M fans

  • A hybrid of tennis and squash, the sport is played by millions across the globe
  • It’s beloved by the likes of David Beckham, Peter Crouch and Andy Murray  
  • This month saw padel staging its latest world cup, with Great Britain coming 14th
  • And there are huge plans afoot to build hundreds of new courts across the UK 

In the searing heat of the Middle East, a Spanish team clashes with an Argentinian one in the final of the World Cup, with the Argentines storming to a 2-1 victory.

This is not some prophetic predication of the winner of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar – the globe will have to wait another 18 days for that. 

Instead, it is the result of one of the world’s fastest-growing racquet sports which counts the likes of David Beckham, Lionel Messi, Andy Murray and Zlatan Ibrahimovic among its 25 million-strong army of fanatics.

Padel, a hybrid of tennis and squash, staged its 16th world championships earlier this month in Dubai – just days before the beautiful game’s sporting spectacle kicked off on the opposite side of the Persian Gulf. 

And it’s a sport that is growing in popularity in Britain, with Team GB even sporting a squad at this year’s world championships, placing a respectable 14th. 

Now a new global tour aims to take the sport beyond its usual heartlands of Spain and Argentina – where only football is more popular in terms of participation – to everywhere and everyone, with plans afoot to boost its presence in the UK, too. 

England football legend David Beckham is a padel fan. He is pictured playing the sport in Miami in March 2021

Ex-Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray, left, and retired England striker Peter Crouch, right, also enjoy the sport – which is a hybrid of tennis and squash 

What is padel and how is it played?  

Padel is a combination of both tennis and squash. It is usually played in doubles on an enclosed court roughly 25 per cent smaller than a normal tennis court.

As in squash, the ball can be played off the glass walls, creating longer and more exciting rallies and some extraordinary shots. 

With less distance to cover, Padel is less physically demanding than ordinary tennis, making it accessible to more people.

The aim of the sport is to win at least two out of three sets, with the scoring system exactly the same as the one used in tennis. 

Each match begins with a serve diagonally across the court – but unlike tennis, this is done underarm.

Points in the fast-paced rallies can be bagged by the opposition if the ball bounces twice on the court, the ball strikes you or a teammate or the ball hits the wire fencing or another fixture before over the net. 

Padel can be played indoors or outdoors and usually in doubles format in an enclosed court

Which famous faces are fans of the sport? 

Former England and Manchester United icon David Beckham is among the fanatics to love the sport. He tried out Padel while in Miami last year and was apparently a natural.

Retired French footballing super star and World Cup winner, Zinedine Zidane also loves the sport, opening the ‘Z5’ Padel centre in Provence in November last year with the public able to book a court for 90 minutes for around £10 each.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Murray also loves the sport and took on former footballer Peter Crouch at Padel in a funny Comic Relief video in 2020. 

Fellow tennis royalty Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic also see the value in either playing or investing in the growing sport.

Liverpool FC manager, Jurgen Klopp had a padel court installed at the club’s training ground after his staff and players discovered the game while on a training camp in Tenerife. 

Getting involved: David threw himself into the sport, which is commonly played in the United States, after admitting it was his first attempt

Manchester United’s Paul Pogba tries his hand at the sport of Padel – a cross between tennis and squash that is enjoyed by millions around the world

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has opened a number of specialist Padel centres across Europe 

His assistant Pep Lijnders joked that Klopp is ‘fanatical’ about playing and ‘starts to walk around like Conor McGregor’ if he wins too many games.

Swedish star Ibrahimovic has poured his own cash into opening a series of Padel Zenters across Europe having been himself converted to the sport.

His erstwhile Manchester United team-mate Paul Pogba even gave him a hand at one of the centres.

Also fans of the sport are Dragons’ Den Peter Jones, ex-England striker Peter Crouch and British actor and comedian, Bradley Walsh. 

Where and when did padel begin? 

The first-ever padel court was built by Mexican businessman Enrique Corcuera in his holiday home in Acapulco in 1969.

But the roots of the activity date back to the 19th century, when passengers on British cruise ships played a similar sport with tennis rackets. And in 1910, a game of ‘platform tennis’ become popular in New York and Washington, with paddles replacing tradition tennis rackets.  

But when Mr Corcuera invented his version of the sport, he surrounded his court with walls and a metallic fence of up to four metres high (13.1ft). 

However, the sport started its global journey in 1974, when Spanish entrepreneur Alfonso de Hohenlohe, a friend of Enrique’s, decided to import it to Spain’s Costa del Sol, building two courts at the exclusive Marbella Club.

A year later, and the sport was discovered by Argentine millionaire Julio Menditenguia – who played it while visiting Marbella. 

He took it back to his home country where padel exploded in popularity. It now has more than 10,000 courts. While in Spain, the sport is one of the country’s most popular, boasting 20,000 courts and an estimated six million active players. 

Smaller racquets are used to those in tennis and players can fire shots off the glass walls 

What about in the UK? Where is padel played? 

Padel is booming in popularity in the UK, with courts dotted around England, Scotland and Wales.

There are 210 court spread across 80 venues. But the Lawn Tennis Association – which is the sport’s governing body and runs Wimbledon – has plans to boost the number of courts to 400 by the end of next year, up from 90 in 2020. 

Latest data shows that there are more than 89,000 active players, with about 15,000 playing every month. Tom Murray, head of padel at the LTA – which took over running the sport in 2019 – said these figures were promising.

‘Given the stage of development we are at in this country versus padel on the continent, participation numbers are healthy, but are also reflective of the number of courts available,’ he said. ‘In the Netherlands, for example, there are currently 600 courts and a monthly participation player base of 100,000, which helps to demonstrate the potential that exists for continued growth.’ 

He added: ‘Padel is an exciting and innovative sport that’s fun, flexible and easy to play. The fact that you have celebrities playing padel helps brings increased visibility and awareness to the sport in Britain.’

An interactive map showing where the sport is played is available here.  

Padel: The booming racquet sport enjoyed by celebs and athletes   

Quite simply, padel is a mixture of tennis and squash.

It’s played on a 10m by 20m court enclosed by glass walls and metal fencing and is usually played in doubles rather than singles.

The enclosed space and the ability to play shots off the glass means the ball rarely goes out of play, creating longer rallies.

Serving is underarm and the points system is the same as in tennis. The balls used are similar to tennis balls but the racquets are solid with no strings.

There are more than 25 million padel players worldwide, with roughly a 50-50 male-female split. 

Though the sport was invented in Mexico in the 1960s, it’s biggest in Argentina and Spain at present but growing in popularity worldwide.

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