Padel tennis is referred to as the fastest-growing sport in the world, and that’s certainly true here in the UK. This relatively young sport is spreading quickly across Britain after first finding popularity in Spain and South American countries. But how did this exciting young sport get its start?
What is padel tennis?
Padel tennis is a sport that’s like a mishmash of other racket sports – most notably tennis and squash. Padel tennis is played in a court laid out like a tennis court, with a net in the middle, but there are walls at each end of the court (and often on the sides, too, but this is not required). Padel courts are a little smaller than tennis courts, at 10x20m.
The two sets of players then play on either side of the net, but with the ability to hit the ball off the walls, like in squash. Padel is played with paddles that are half tennis racket, half table tennis paddle – they’re a little smaller than tennis rackets but have a solid middle, like a table tennis paddle.
The rules are similar to tennis; you need to win 2 out of 3 sets to win, and each set is made up of 6 games. The scoring is also the same as tennis, with the serve going to the diagonal opponent. Unlike tennis, table tennis, or squash, it is only played in doubles. (There are some singles games, but they must be played on smaller, specialist courts, which are uncommon.) You can only serve underarm, and you must play the ball off the wall.
The Early Years of Padel Tennis
Padel tennis is a relatively new sport, first invented by Enrique Corcuera in 1969, in Acapulco, Mexico. Enrique created a court by adding a 3-metre tall wall to the rear of the fronton court, which is a game that’s very similar to squash. He then added a net in the middle, which is reminiscent of tennis, and two low walls on either side of the court. The court was around 10m wide and 20m front to back, which is the size padel courts continue to be to this day.
Corcuera shared his game with his elite friends, all aristocrats, and entrepreneurs who came to stay at his home.
In 1974, Prince Alfonso of Hohenhole introduced padel tennis to Spain, first building two courts at his Marbella Club Hotel after spending time at Corcuera’s home. In these new courts, Alfonso made a few changes, including wire fencing on the sides of the court, instead of additional walls.
Just a year later, Julio Mendieguy, an Argentine millionaire and frequent guest of Marbella, introduced the sport to his home country, where it quickly gained popularity. Today, over 2 million Argentinians play Padel, and there are over 10,000 courts.
In the 80s and 90s, Alfonso’s original courts hosted the first-ever “Pro-Am” tournaments, where pro players partnered up with famous politicians, artists, and sportsmen. Some of the most notable names include Antonio Ascensi, Enrique Iglesias Preysler, and Olivia Valere.
These tournaments were sponsored by a company called Smith & Smith, which was owned by Julio Algeria Artiach, a prominent figure and enthusiastic advocate and investor in the development of padel. These early tournaments helped encourage the expansion of padel across Spain and South America.
In 1991, the Spanish Padel Association, Argentinian Padel Association, and Uruguayan Padel Association met in Madrid and created the International Padel Federation (FIP).
In 1992, the inaugural World Padel Championships take place in Madrid with just 4 competing countries; Spain, Argentina, the UK, and France. The popularity of the game continued to grow and spread, and by 2000, there were over 500 padel clubs in Spain. Over in the US, the US Padel Association was founded in 1993 and the American Padel Association followed 2 years later, building courts at a private club in Houston.
The Padel Pro Tour (PPT) was created in 2005, which was the first professional level circuit for international padel players, playing at the highest level. In 2013, another professional circuit called the World Padel Tour (WPT) launched, and is attended mostly by Hispanic nations.
In 2014, the first padel court opened in Singapore, and the first courts also opened in Egypt, a country well-known for its love of squash.
The History of Padel Tennis in the UK
Padel doesn’t really get its start in the UK until 2011, but it’s worth noting that the UK as a represented nation first started in padel in 1992. A group of expats living in Spain who had fallen in love with Padel Tennis and desired to compete in the first Padel World Championships formed the British Padel Association, which is known as LTA Padel today.
In 2011, the first padel courts were built in the UK by David Lloyd Leisure, as well as enthusiastic padel players who picked it up while on holiday in Spain. As the popularity of padel spread through the UK, British Padel and the Lawn Tennis Association allied to form LTA Padel.
In 2012, the first indoor padel club opened in Canary Wharf (London), and in 2015, Jamie Murray competed in a British Padel Tour event. By 2019, there were only 40 public courts in the UK, but things started to change rapidly.
Today, in the 2020’s, the popularity of padel is growing – there are now over 165 public courts, with aims to increase this to 250 by the end of 2022, and 400 by the end of 2023. There are padel clubs all over London and it’s spreading to other populous areas of the UK. Padel experts such as Dani Dios, a professional player who has lived and trained in the UK, Sweden, and Spain, believes that padel is going to be the next big sport here.
The Future of Padel
Today, padel is played in over 60 countries, with new courts opening in public spaces and private homes all the time. Padel enthusiasts hope to have it included as an Olympic sport in the near future, especially as it spreads to other large countries such as the UAE, India, Egypt, Australia, China, Sweden, Germany, and Finland. Sports broadcasters are just starting to pick up padel games, with Sky Sports broadcasting it in Italy, and ESPN in North and South America.
Padel has been raved about by tennis stars such as Jamie Murray and Maria Sharapova, football stars like Lionel Messi (who has a court at his home in Barcelona) and David Beckham, and Formula 1 stars such as Marcus Alonso. These celebrity endorsements are one of the reasons for padel’s rise in popularity, but it’s also gaining popularity because it’s a social game and very easy to pick up and play well for fun.
Since padel courts are so much smaller than other racket sports (you can fit 3 padel courts on the footprint of a tennis court), they’re ideal for small sports centres and residential back gardens.
If you have a court near you, take a few friends out and give it a try! It’s a lot of fun and is very accessible, no matter your ability or fitness level. Most people can pick it up and start getting a good rally going in just 5-10 minutes, and unlike tennis or squash, if you’re playing with someone more experienced than you, you can both still get a good, dynamic game going, without one person having to constantly slow down for the other.
This Club Map will help you find the closest padel court near you. Private at-home courts can also be set up inexpensively with the use of an external wall of your home or garage, or in any space where you have a 10x20m space spare. Padel is a lot of fun and a great way to get in a workout, so the economic footprint combined with the benefits of the game makes it the perfect addition to your home.
Many people choose to use our artificial grass for their home padel court, so if you fall in love with padel and decide to get a court of your own, make sure you order some samples of our artificial grass to provide the perfect, long-lasting surface for your court.