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Forget pickleball — Padel is our new favorite weird sport

Padel: Get ready for your new favorite indoor racquet sport

Pickleball might be the most popular sport in the United States, but it’s got a pretty great cousin that just might give pickleball a run for its money: Padel.

Where pickleball is (generally) an outdoor sport, padel is an enclosed variant of tennis (indoors or outdoors). According to the Padel Academy, the sport arose in 1969, just about the same time as pickleball’s invention in 1965. This was about the time that Enrique Corcuera decided to morph elements of platform tennis into squash, thus creating what the man humbly dubbed “Paddle Corcuera.”

Player holding a padel paddle.
Tomasz Krawczyk

Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association explains that, in the 1800s, British cruise ship passengers passed the long days at sea smacking balls back and forth on the deck. Problem was, tennis rackets are meant to hit the ball a long way, and if a ball goes over the side of an ocean liner, it’s likely gone for good. So, paddles replaced traditional tennis rackets. In the 1910s, this new “platform tennis” planted roots in the New World, earning popularity in metropolitan centers like Washington D.C. and New York City. Today, platform tennis is generally a cold weather sport, with a heater below the raised court to allow the surface to warm even in icy/snowy conditions.

Corcuera challenged his friends to compete in “Paddle Corcuera,” and soon the sport seeped from his home in Acapulco, Mexico, to Spain and Argentina. The Padel Academy relates how his Spanish friend, Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, created Europe’s first two Padel courts in a tennis club when he returned home to Marbella, Spain in 1974. And in 1975, Alfonso’s amigo, Julio Menditeguy, brought the sport back to his native Argentina.

The sport took hold in Argentina and Western Europe. Today, the International Padel Federation (founded in 2000 in Lausanne, Switzerland) claims over 25 million players worldwide. And Lisandro Borges, president of the Argentine Padel Association, claims about 2 million Argentine people who play in 2,600 clubs on over 4,900 courts in the South American country (per Infobae). Just like tennis, there are regional, national, and world tours, a Grand Slam of padel, and celebrity adherents like soccer superstar Lionel Messi, who happens to have a padel court in the garden of his Barcelona home.

How to play

People who know how to play tennis basically know how to play padel. Head describes padel as “a mix between tennis and squash.” This is because, like tennis, small yellow balls are used. Like squash, though, the balls have to be somewhat deflated for less bounce. Unlike squash, padel is usually played as a doubles game, but similarly, padel is played on a glass- and metallic mesh-enclosed court that allows the ball to rebound and remain in play.

About one-quarter to one-third of the size of a standard tennis court, the game is high speed and played fast, which means covering this court as a singles player is so difficult that singles padel is rare.

Scoring and gameplay are the same as tennis, with five-point games adding towards winning sets. Three key differences define padel: players are allowed to play off the side and back walls, players can only serve underhand, and, as of 2020, the adoption of the Golden Point. In order to speed the game up, instead of going to “deuce” when opponents are tied at three points apiece, the next point — the Golden Point — decides the game.

Padel in the United States

Despite its ubiquity in Europe, padel has yet to make a major impact in the U.S. Fromuth wholesale racquets locates just over 65 courts across the country. Though these are concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, and the Northeast, most coastal folks are within a few hundred miles of padel courts. And if you have access to one of these courts? Enjoy a game of indoor padel during these cool winter months.

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