Padel: With 25 million players worldwide, the sport was only tipped to get “bigger and bigger” by tennis star Andy Murray
It is believed to be a sport that began with a nap.
The intense heat in Acapulco, Mexico, made businessman Enrique Corcuera take a nap at his family’s house every afternoon. His daughter Viviana, meanwhile, irritated him by hitting tennis balls against the walls of the house.
That led Corcuera to build another wall to hit against, and it was from there that his new and improvised racket sport began to evolve.
As the ball kept escaping over the side of the wall, Corcuera installed more walls with metal fencing, then set a net in the center of the enclosed space.
What was initially designed as a game to be enjoyed by a family in Mexico has since evolved into padel, a popular racket sport that combines elements of tennis and pumpkin.
Today, more than 50 years since its inception, paddle tennis has 25 million players in more than 90 countries around the world.
Among them is three-time Grand Slam tennis champion Andy Murray, who has known the sport since he was a teenager training in Spain.
“I think it’s a great social sport,” Murray tells CNN. “I know a lot of the ex-tennis players when they’re done playing take it and find it’s great for their fitness, but also not as demanding as tennis.”
Unlike tennis, paddle tennis is generally played in a doubles format, although the same scoring system is used in both sports.
All serves are underhand, and once returned, shots can be played on the volley, off a rebound, or off the wall. Players can also take shots on the side and back walls that line the 20 meter long and 10 meter wide court on their side of the net.
Padel rackets are smaller, thicker, and squatter than tennis rackets, and the hitting surface is made entirely of carbon fiber or fiberglass, unlike the string rackets found in tennis, squash, or tennis. badminton, or the wooden rackets used in pickle.
While similar to pickleball, which has grown in popularity in the US in recent years, earning it the nickname America’s unofficial pandemic pastime, paddle tennis has gained traction in other parts of the world, namely Europe and South America.
Last year, for example, it is estimated that some 15,000 new paddle tennis courts were registered in Europe.
The game has flourished in Spain, where there are more than six million active players and more than 20,000 courts, making padel the second most popular participation sport after soccer.
“I think it’s going to keep getting bigger and bigger,” says Murray. “I think [tennis] The clubs will continue to want to build tracks and there will be more demand… In Spain, obviously, it is huge.
“I know that one of my former coaches, Jonas Björkman, who was world number 1 in doubles and number 4 in singles, is playing all the time. He has opened several centers in Sweden. Feliciano López, with whom I played doubles a few times on tour… He is playing regularly”.
Murray, who won all three of his Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the US Open between 2012 and 2016, sees a bright future for the sport, so much so that he has invested in Game4Padel, the UK’s leading provider of padel courts.
He is part of a celebrity lineup of ambassadors and investors in the company, including his brother Jamie, former No. 1 in the men’s doubles rankings, Liverpool and Netherlands soccer player Virgil Van Dijk, and former Liverpool rugby international Wales Jonathan Davies.
“It was an opportunity to invest in a sport that I enjoy playing,” says Murray. “It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world… I think it will continue to grow bigger and bigger. I think the clubs will continue to want to build pitches and there will be more demand.”
Played on a court one-third the size of a tennis court, paddle tennis is low-impact and low-intensity compared to other racquet sports, something that, along with the satisfying “pock” sound when hitting the ball, has contributed to its popularity. .
On the World Padel Tour, the sport also has a burgeoning professional circuit, although padel’s strength in numbers is currently best displayed in the amateur game. Could it reach the same level of global popularity as tennis?
“I think recreationally it could probably do in terms of the sheer number of people playing the game, just from what I’ve seen in places like Spain, Italy and France, for example,” Jamie Murray tells CNN.
“On a professional level, I honestly don’t know. With tennis, I guess there’s so much tradition and history and stuff in so many big events, I think it’s probably going to take a long time for padel to reach that.”
In addition to being investors in the game, the Murray brothers are also keen gamers. Together, one would think they would make a useful couple on a paddle tennis court, if only they would put their sibling rivalry aside.
“We played a few times earlier this year in Australia when we were there for the Australian Open,” says Andy. “They have a couple of courts there and I took really good care of him, so I don’t think I’ve lost to him yet.”
But when asked which brother is the better player, Jamie has a different answer.
“I think it has to be me,” he says.