It’s that time of year again, spring is here. As we shrug off the mantle of winter in Europe and say goodbye to the joys of cold weather pursuits, we might look forward towards an uplift of activity during the warmer months. A round of golf, perhaps, or paddling on the lake?
And then there’s tennis. Long, wonderfully exhausting sessions of deep ground strokes, mesmerizing back and forth, and the simple sense of achievement that comes with putting a small yellow ball over a net.
Unless you’ve been a hermit of late, you may have noticed the truly meteoric rise of padel as the fastest growing racquet sport on Earth. More compact than tennis, yet fast-paced and tremendously fun, this activity is quickly becoming a go-to form of exercise that anyone can get involved with.
What’s all the racket/racquet about?
Padel is the modern evolution of a long ancestral line of racquet sports. Back in the early 1300s, real tennis, or Jeu de Paume, was a favorite of Louis X of France. Played in an enclosed indoor space, this sport eventually broke out to become ‘lawn tennis’, much as we all know today.
There was also a version known as ‘fives’, a form of the sport within a walled, enclosed space, which was enjoyed by British sailors below decks back in the 1890s. They used their hands, instead of racquets, just like Basque pelota. Padel, as we now know it, came to be when Enrique Corcuera, a Mexican millionaire and tennis aficionado, decided in 1969 to build walls around his court to prevent the loss of tennis balls. Perhaps his math was a little suspect, since the resulting court, with walls three meters high at the back and two meters high on the sides, was pretty small. After a while, Enrique had developed special racquets, solid ‘bats’ with holes, and finessed the game, wherein players used the surrounding walls to bounce off shots and create a rapid, three-dimensional, doubles-only sport that feels somewhat more forgiving on the muscles than the eternal ground-stroke slog of regular tennis. Prince Alfonso of Spain got hooked and brought the sport back to his country, which now boasts 10,000 courts!
How does it compare to other sports?
Padel feels like a mashup of all the racquet sports. There’s the short ground strokes and positioning of tennis, the walled versatility of squash, the overhead smashing of badminton, and even the rapidity (with paddles/bats) of table tennis. However, what makes padel unique is that, when all the elements come together – the foam rubber racquet, slightly oversized softer ball, doubles play and walls – you have a sport that is neither too manic nor too immediately exhausting. Padel works wonders for a first-time player, especially for those of you who have ever picked up any kind of racquet/bat and hit a ball, as it reignites the tactile instinct you have from those sports. Equally, if you’ve never held a racquet before, this is the perfect reason to start. There’s no overhead serve, so no stress to ‘perform’. Off the bat, (if you’ll pardon the pun) padel lets you step right in and start playing, and therein lies its appeal as an activity for all ages and levels. As you progress, you’ll start to build the repertoire of shots that employ rear walls, side walls, or if you’re really tricky, a downward smash that bounces over the walls and forces your opponent to scurry out of the court to knock it back over.
It’s hilarious, and a wonderful way to get back into racquet sports with a bunch of friends. A padel court is a quarter smaller than a tennis court, and simpler, underhand shots, you’ll find you’re filling the open court space more easily than tennis, and as a result it’s easier to develop more enduring rallies. Additionally, padel is scored similarly to tennis: game, set, match, and the ’15-30-40-love’ points progression, so if you’ve ever watched Wimbledon you’ll know how to play.
Padel is rapidly growing, so it will steadily become easier to find places to play it. It’s now featured in over 90 countries and enjoyed by over 25 million active players worldwide.
Its official regulating body, the International Padel Federation (padelfip.com), is based in Lausanne. Check out their site and search ‘padel’ on YouTube to see how exciting the pro game can be! Easy to pick up, instantly addictive and extremely fun, padel is highly recommended whether you’re seeking a summer (outdoor) or year-round (indoor) group activity that keeps you on your toes.
WHAT YOU NEED AND WHERE TO PLAY
Any padel court will have racquets and balls for rent, so just bring your sports shoes and comfortable gym gear, whatever you feel happy sweating in. If you want your own padel gear, you can find a decent starter racquet at around CHF 50-60, with a tube of balls at CHF 15-20 at most sports stores or online. And where to start? Luckily, Country Club Geneva has you covered. It has three dedicated indoor padel courts, coupled with the full facilities of a spa and fitness club, making it an attractive option if you live in or around Geneva. Find out more at: davidlloyd.ch/en