Already beloved across South America and Europe, padel tennis is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK.
Since November 2020, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has been the national governing body for the sport when it was officially recognised as a discipline of tennis, and this has opened the door for greater recognition, support and funding.
One of the organisations responsible for generating and promoting the spread of padel tennis, or padel, is Game4Padel, which seeks to bring padel courts to community hubs as diverse as universities, sports clubs, leisure centres, and shopping malls.
Founded in 2018, and led by CEO Michael Gradon, Game4Padel’s mission was supercharged in 2019 by the involvement of Sir Andy Murray, who joined the company as an investor.
Murray is a vocal ambassador of the game, taking part in a televised padel match against Peter Crouch to raise money for Children in Need in 2020.
The game’s success is partly down to how easy it is to pick up and play.
Most palatably described as a tennis-squash hybrid by aficionados keen to get newcomers involved in the game, the sport is a doubles game, played on a tennis court without tramlines, where the ball can be played off the walls if it has bounced on court first.
The familiarity of scoring and lack of overarm serve makes padel more appealing to those intimidated by lawn tennis.
“Not having to serve is a major bonus,” said Annabel Croft, a former British No.1 tennis player and one of Game4Padel’s ambassadors, speaking at a Game4Padel event at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.
“It instantly takes enormous pressure off people who have never played tennis before, and you get a lot of rallies.
“I’ve laughed a lot – it’s a very joyful sport.”
The ability to hold long rallies is evidenced in the contrast in ball in-play times between tennis and padel.
On average, during an hour of doubles tennis, the ball is in play for 15 minutes.
In a padel match, this time in-play leaps to 51 minutes.
However, Gradon was keen to assuage fears that padel might overtake tennis as the country’s most popular racket sport.
He said: “We’ve seen the introduction of padel courts reviving tennis clubs. At our original venue, the Thistle Club, a modest tennis club in Edinburgh, membership had dropped from 400 members to 75.”
“In the two years after the court was added, the club’s membership went from 75 to 350. It now has 480 members.”
There are currently 136 padel courts in the UK, with a large number in South West London, but by the end of 2022, the LTA has forecast that the number of courts will have increased five-fold.
Game4Padel will be opening courts at 18 venues in 2022, most notably in January 2022, with the inauguration of three permanent and two pop-up padel courts at Westfield London, taking advantage of the massive footfall at the shopping centre with the aim of getting more and more people curious about the game.
Tia Norton, 18, is the sport’s UK number one and a Game4Padel ambassador, and has been playing the sport since the age of 12.
In August, she became the first British woman to compete in and win a match on the World Padel Tour, at the Malaga Open.
“It was so surreal. Me and my partner went into the tournament with no expectations,” said Norton.
“It was the first time for both of us, and we definitely exceeded anything that we ever thought we could have done.”
Since Norton started playing, she watched the sport not just grow, but begin to enter the public’s understanding.
“I would speak to people, even friends, and say ‘I’m playing padel, I’m going to Mexico to play the World Championships.’ And they would say: ‘what’s padel?’” Norton said.
“I’ve definitely seen it grow – it’s crazy! I think from here, the only way is up.”