Ever wondered why people are playing tennis in a fish tank with strange-looking rackets? What you are watching isn’t in fact tennis, but is one of Spain’s most popular sports – padel.
Padel is very similar to tennis. However, if you get frustrated about having to go and retrieve balls then this could be the alternative for you. It’s a combination of squash and tennis, some would say, taking the best bits of both.
What is padel?
Padel is usually played in doubles on an enclosed court about half the size of a tennis court. The balls that are used and the way it is scored are the same as for tennis but a big difference is that you can play off the walls too – a little like squash.
Courts can be inside or outside and their smaller size makes them more convivial than the conventional tennis court. The rackets have been adapted for the sport, have no strings, are made of graphite and have a shorter handle.
The ball is only allowed to bounce once and the serve must be underhand – again a real advantage for those who struggle to smash it in tennis. It is very much a family game and men and women and children can play together relatively easily. You can be a real novice and still manage to have a decent game.
Why is Padel so popular?
Tennis can be frustrating to play when you are not very evenly matched with your opponent. Balls drifting into the next court, serves into the net and frequent ‘out’ calls mean that you can feel like giving up before you’ve started. Padel can be picked up very quickly and new participants can have a worthwhile game in a matter of minutes.
Padel is a lot more forgiving of diversity than many sports. You will not have to go far to get the ball as the court is enclosed and partners can more easily cover for each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Renzo Schrauwen, a padel convert, found it was a very good way of making friends. ‘When I started playing padel,’ says Renzo, ‘I didn’t actually know anyone else who played. I approached the club and they matched me with a partner and helped us find other people of a similar level. It’s a very sociable sport that’s very easy to learn and doesn’t require a high level of athleticism to be able to play.’
As Renzo had moved into a new area and didn’t know very many people this was an excellent way of settling in. Now, three years later, he has progressed up the ranks but still recognises what a fun sport it can be for the beginner.
‘Some friends of mine came over from Holland. Instead of just doing the usual rounds of beaches and bars I set up a padel tournament as well. They loved it and, in fact, were so keen on the game that they played a few more times before returning home.’
Of course, there is room for professionals too. There is a professional padel competition in Spain and amongst the clubs you are ranked from one to four to help you find the right level of competition.
Getting started with Padel
Most tennis clubs in Spain will have at least one padel court and there are also many padel clubs. It is so popular that you don’t have to travel far to find a venue and willing opponents.
‘I use Whatsapp,’ explains Renzo. ‘Me and my partner are approached for a match and if it’s convenient for us we’ll take them up on it. It’s a great way of visiting other clubs too.’
Renzo´s advice for someone thinking of starting is to find a club, introduce yourself and let them help you do the rest. ‘I started off by playing at a very low level, and then had classes for beginners. But you could do it the other way round if you prefer. Either way, I’d thoroughly recommend it whatever your level of fitness, it’s a sport for everyone!’