A NEW tin of balls and a satisfying thwack. The squeak of the trainer’s sole pivoting and a sweaty outstretched arm, pleading and praying to reach the next shot – there’s few racket sports as fast and furious as this.
If tennis or squash came to mind, you’d be forgiven but this is padel – a glorious hybrid of the two. It has been described as ‘tennis with walls’ or “squash in the sun” – but the secret love child of two sports has grow up fast and is now widely considered to be the fastest developing sport in the world.
European sporting heroes Nadal, Djokovic and Murray all play. But padel — or padel tennis if you’re a yank — was in fact invented thanks to a tiny Mexican millionaire with a too-small villa and one very good idea.
Sports fanatic Enrique Corcuera originally set out to build a tennis court inside his home in Estipac, a town near Guadalajara, Mexico in the late 1960s. But the cramped measurements of his house meant the court had to be stuffed inside 3-4 metre high walls and measured just 10 by 20 metres in size.
Undeterred, Enrique invited his rich pals around to play a fast-paced game he called Paddle Corcuera and soon all of the Mexican elite were batting away with shorter, stringless rackets and smacking tennis balls that ricocheted off the walls.
One of the aforementioned friends was bohemian aristocrat Alfonso De Hohenlohe, Marbella’s ‘father figure’ who founded the Marbella club in 1954 as a private residence and meeting place for the grand families of Europe and the stars whom he rubbed shoulders with in Hollywood.
Alfonso quickly fell in love with the quirky sport and decided to introduce the game to Spain by building Europe’s first padel club in 1974, even adding a few modifications to the game to make it even more competitive.
Soon even the Spanish royal Juan Carlos was bouncing off the walls and the King’s new hobby quickly caught the attention of the public.
Once ex-Wimbledon champion Manolo Santana started playing too, the sport soared in popularity and the next 25 years saw an errruption of courts across Spain.
Today padel is a €500m industry, played by a whopping ten million people – dwarfing tennis which, by comparison, only around 200,000 who actively play tennis worldwide
It’s no surprise it became a fast-favourite of the cardio inclined. The sport is marked for its rallies, which, unlike tennis, regularly exceed 50 or 60 shots per point. The court may be small, but the players are mighty.
Along with Argentina, Spain remains the best place to play official tournaments and international competitions with the country boasting more than 2,400 clubs.
The first World Championships were organised in 1992 in Seville with delegations from 11 different countries from Europe and America participating and now the World Championships are organised every two years. Other big tournaments including the Europacup, the Padel Pro Tour (Spain and Argentina) and the Tri-Nations Cup in Latin America attract tens of thousands of spectators each year.
Tennis star and former British number one Andy Murray is even doing his part to bring the sport to the UK. Following De Hohenlohe’s footwork, Murray has invested in a Scottish company that plans and constructs courts, hoping to boost the number of padel clubs in Britain
Currently there are only 19 clubs in the UK but as proved by Marbella’s founding father, when it comes to introducing padel to a new country, it’s always worth a shot.