If you want to know about padel tennis in the UK then John Leach is the man to talk to.
The former Great Britain captain and South West Londoner has seen it grow from a fringe sport to one of the fastest growing in the country.
This summer he took up the head coach role of Great Britain men’s team and his first assignment was to guide a relatively inexperienced side through the padel World Cup in Qatar last month, after GB qualified as one of the best 16 teams.
Leach, 43, said: “We went to Qatar and had an amazing experience.
“We are a little short of the leading teams such as Spain and Argentina but there are teams in the middle with whom we are competitive against.
“It was such good fun and a great opportunity to challenge ourselves against the best teams in the world.”
After an opening defeat to Spain, the team beat the USA and lost to Chile to finish third in the group stage.
They then beat Qatar and Poland but lost to Germany to finish 11th overall.
Leach added: “It’s a good position but we would have liked to finish higher.
“You come back from an international tournament and see how strong the opponents are and it inspires you to get better.
“To be more competitive with the top teams we need to get more infrastructure in place and make it more of a traditional sport much like tennis.
“We need to broaden the spectrum of players, we have some good players here but the sport is so new.”
South West London is at the forefront of developing the game with courts in Chiswick, Chelsea and the National Tennis Centre.
Players are emerging that have benefited from these facilities.
Chris Salisbury, Joe Salisbury’s brother, is one of the players to break through to the national team after developing his skills on the padel courts of South West London.
Like most paddle players, Salisbury made the transition from tennis to padel and Leach has earmarked him as one of a group players that Leach will look to develop in order to make the team more competitive at the international level.
Leach added: “The majority of the eight guys that went to Qatar are in their early twenties and these are the players we want to spend time developing because they are the future of the sport.
“You can see other nations are improving and we need to make sure we continue on the right path.
“We’re fortunate in this area to get the opportunity to play.
‘The challenge really is to improve the men’s team and to produce more players that are competing to play in the team.”
The London based players in particular benefit from playing against Spanish speaking players, who have moved to the city to work or study.
Padel competes with tennis in popularity across Spain and in Latin America, where the sport originated.
Leach said: “There’s a lot of Spanish speaking padel players here in South West London and that’s what keeps the level up.
“It’s really useful for us to help develop players competing against guys from other countries.”
As well as his role in the national setup, Leach coaches padel and tennis at Chelsea Harbour Club and that has allowed him to witness the growth of the sport at grass roots level too.
He said: “Everyone is so addicted to padel when they start and people are always keen to play at the club.
“The number of people playing padel at the club has gone through the roof.
“Two years ago most of my clients were for tennis coaching but now it’s more like a 50/50 split between tennis and padel.
“It’s exciting times but it’s a lot of work to get the UK towards playing more padel.”
Leach initiated Home of padel which aims to get more people playing padel through coaching, exhibitions and tournaments.
There are plans in place for next year, in which South West London will host the largest padel tournament in the country so far.
Featured Image Credit: John Leach