Thu. Jul 25th, 2024
alert-–-the-rise-(and-rise)-of-padel:-how-rapidly-growing-racket-sport-beloved-by-david-beckham,-jurgen-klopp-and-serena-williams-is-putting-tennis-‘at-risk’-–-as-padelmania-sweeps-across-britainAlert – The rise (and rise) of padel: How rapidly growing racket sport beloved by David Beckham, Jurgen Klopp and Serena Williams is putting tennis ‘at risk’ – as padelmania sweeps across Britain

As Wimbledon battles on in SW19 you could be forgiven for thinking that tennis will always be the King of racquet sports in Britain.

But as stars including David Beckham, Jurgen Klopp and even Serena Williams leave the game in their dust, athletes of all ages are instead flocking to try their hand at padel.

The sport – which is played on a smaller court and with solid raquets – has seen a meteoric rise since its invention by a Mexican businessman in the 1960s, with more than 500 courts across the country.

And now athletes say they fear it could eclipse tennis altogether – with seven-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic saying the sport is ‘endangered’.

Padel professionals – delighted that so many people are coming to love their sport – now predict it could be on par with tennis within a decade. 

The 37-year-old blamed tennis clubs for this growth – saying there is not enough effort to make tennis ‘accessible’ or ‘affordable’. 

‘Tennis is the king or queen of all the racket sports, that’s true, but on a club level tennis is endangered,’ the Serbian number one said. 

Invented in Mexico in 1969, padel has the same scoring system as tennis but is played with thicker, stringless rackets and lower pressured balls. 

A game is started by bouncing the ball and hitting underarm below waist height. After the first return each player may use the walls much like in squash. 

The court has what are called rebound ends (usually of toughened glass) and walls of firm rebound mesh and/or glass along the sides. 

The ball can bounce and hit the wall only once on your side of the net before you return it. 

Scoring is organised into sets and games (to win a set, you must win six games and be leading by a clear two).

The game is fast paced and often described as a mix between tennis and squash.

The British Padel Association was formed in 1992 by a group of expats wanting to play in that year’s World Championships.

In November 2020 the Lawn Tennis Association was confirmed as the national governing body for Padel.

‘If we don’t do something about it, as I said, globally or collectively, padel – or pickleball in the States – they’re going to convert all the tennis clubs into padel and pickleball because it’s just more economical.

‘You have one tennis court. You can build three padel courts on one tennis court. You do the simple math.

‘It’s just much more financially viable for an owner of a club to have those courts.’

With less ground to cover and a key focus on the social element, the game has been lauded as a perfect sport for those who have passed their sporting peak – particularly as it swaps out tennis’ serves for an underarm alternative.

But it is not just reserved for the elderly – with superfit athletes including Lebron James sharing their love for the game, and F1 stars Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, Alex Albon and Carlos Sainz repeatedly picturing their shared games on social media.

Even Andy Murray has backed the growing game – investing in court-building company Game4Padel in 2019, as he called it ‘one of the fastest emerging racket sports in the world right now’. His mum Judy called the sport ‘sociable and fun’.

And former British number one Annabel Croft championed the sport – saying it is easier to pick up than tennis.

‘It’s a very inclusive sport, there’s no barriers to anybody trying to pick up a bat and trying to have a go. I would encourage anyone to give it a go,’ she told The Telegraph.

In ten years the number of people playing padel has doubled worldwide – from 12 million in 2014 to 30 million in 2024. It is played by 200,000 amateurs across the UK.

But in six years the number of people playing tennis in the UK grew by less than three per cent – from 889,000 in 2015-16 to 915,000 in 2021-22, according to Sport England’s Active Lives Survey. The traditional sport still remains the dominant force, however, with 87 million players globally in 2017.

According to Women’s Health, you can burn between 700 and 1,000 calories a session, with particular benefits for the glutes and legs.

Nikhil Mohindra, who is ranked number four in Great Britain, started playing padel seven years ago after struggling with other sports because of his asthma.

The 23-year-old, from Chigwell, Essex, went on to make the Team GB team aged just 20.

He now believes padel could be on par with tennis in ten years – as he says Djokovic’s comments are now ‘all over’ the padel group chats.

He told : ‘I started to really enjoy it because social aspects, the community – it’s always a doubles game, so that’s always fantastic.

‘Padle’s a very equalising sport. There’s not a shot where because you’re taller, because you stronger, because you’re smaller, you’ll be better at that.

‘It’s a very neutral sport and it’s very skillful – it’s tactical, more than anything. 

‘It’s a smaller court and the ball doesn’t keep going flying everywhere. Everything’s contained within the 20 by 10 meter court and like Djokovic said it’s so much more viable for the owners.

‘Come the end of the decade, it will be close to tennis here in the UK, I believe.’

He says the game was transformed after the Lawn Tennis Club adopted padel as an official sport in the UK, which helped them get more support and funding.  

And he has delighted in seeing the sport become more widely known – with England stars in the Euros posting photos of each other playing in between matches. 

Mr Mohindra continued: ‘It’s really booming. And on the side of that, you’ve got all of these celebrities who are playing. 

‘They’ve all been posting because it’s such a such a different kind of sport. It makes you think differently and it’s very easy and fun to play.’

Asked if he is prepared to become as famous as Murray as the sport grows, he laughed: ‘I would absolutely love that. That would be awesome.

‘I think we have a lot of grind to do first, in terms of developing the sport, but for sure. It’s like the informal version of tennis. That’s why everyone jumps on – it’s such a trendy sport and they love it.

‘I don’t know if I will experience what Andy Murray has but fingers crossed!’

James Rock, 35, the co-founder of Padel People, runs an area for the sport in Wimbledon, less than two miles from Centre Court.

A former top-50 professional rackets player, he argues padel can be a ‘nice addition’ to tennis.

He told : ‘I believe that there’s certainly a way that they can coexist peacefully and actually help one another in terms of their popularity.

‘I think padel has got some advantages – it’s a little bit easier than tennis so potentially can appeal to a wider range of abilities.

‘I think padel has got a long way to go to sort of establish itself the way that tennis is established.’

Mr Rock runs the sports club alongside schoolfriend George Sandbach, with the pair setting up their Wimbledon court a year ago.

They started playing three years ago after a local club in Cheltenham set up a few courts, and they realised the potential for expanding the network of places to enjoy the sport. 

He continued: ‘It’s been very popular – we’re pretty busy. I’d say we run at about somewhere between like 85 to 90 per cent capacity

‘I haven’t found the sort of traditionalist tennis crowd have in any way had a problem with it. 

‘I don’t think it’s pulled anybody away from tennis clubs, or had an effect on tennis numbers around Wimbledon. I think it’s just been a nice addition for other people.

‘It’s a nice place to have so people have an indoor court, When the weather’s not the best they can come and still get a game.’

The cost of booking a court ranges between £40 and £80 – more than twice as much as a tennis court, which can be booked for free through many local councils but otherwise costs between £8 and £20. 

The more exclusive nature means it can also be more lucrative for tennis clubs – with the smaller courts also meaning that more can be packed in the same area. 

And as many clubs struggled with plummeting participation, local teams have enthusiastically embraced the new sport as a way to survive. 

Thistle Tennis Club in Edinburgh once had more than 350 members, and with six courts was one of the leading teams in the east of Scotland.

But as their membership fell to as little as 60 adults, in a bid to revitalise the club they opened courts in 2017 and saw membership rebound to even more than their original number – even producing Britain’s number one pair.

Djokovic was quizzed on whether tennis should switch to a three-set format to try and gain more young fans.

The sport has tried to change its image to attract new supports in recent years with an insider Netflix series, Break Point.

It was hoped the show would do for tennis what Drive to Survive did for F1.

Djokovic argued that tennis should keep five sets at least in the last rounds of a grand slam because of the ‘excitement’ but agreed the sport needs innovation.

‘When we look at Formula 1, for example, and what they have done in terms of marketing, in terms of growth of the sport, in terms of the races around the world and how popular they are, I think we need to do a better job on our respective tours,’ he said.

Padel was invented in 1969, by Mexican businessman Enrique Corcuera, who wanted a tennis court at his Acapulco home, but didn’t have the space – and was worried about losing the ball into his neighbour’s garden.

His wife Viviana, a former Miss Argentina, helped put together the rules, based on a 1920s pastime played on British cruise ships. 

A friend of Corcuera’s, Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, has been referred to as the grandfather of padel for bringing it to Spain in the 1970s and opening courts at the Marbella Club hotel. 

It’s now hailed as the country’s second most popular sport after football – and is loved by national tennis hero Rafael Nadal.

Unsurprisingly, international investors are flocking to padel, including several famous faces. Andy Murray backs Game4Padel, which is bringing the sport to Westfield London, and Cristiano Ronaldo has put money into a giant facility in Lisbon. 

And it’s not just swarming with pro athletes – famous faces such as Hugh Grant, Shakira and Pippa Middleton are also game. 

Padel was recognised by the International Olympic Committee in 2019, was officially designated a discipline of tennis in Britain in 2020.

It was played at the European Games in Poland in 2023, in its first appearance in a major multi-sport event. 

Snobs may once have complained it was a ‘dumbed-down’ version of tennis – the sport’s equivalent of crazy golf – but the well-heeled (such as the Chipping Norton Set) are installing courts in their homes. 

Even Royal hangout The Hurlingham Club has four padel courts in its West London grounds. 

It’s especially popular with footballers including Mo Salah, David Beckham, who played while living in Miami, and Lionel Messi, who has a court at his Barcelona home. 

When London’s Battersea Park recently announced free introductory sessions at its new padel facility, slots were booked solid. (Weekend sessions are still chocker, despite costing £32 an hour.) 

In Leeds, a Grade II listed railway engine shed is being converted, while Manchester is building a £2.5million complex dedicated to the sport.

And the UK’s hot new Estelle Manor hotel in Oxfordshire is a hub, having gone for padel rather than tennis courts. 

error: Content is protected !!