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Padel: With 25 million players worldwide, the sport should only get “bigger and bigger” according to tennis star Andy Murray




CNN

It is believed to be a sport that started with a siesta.

The intense heat in Acapulco, Mexico meant businessman Enrique Corcuera would take a nap in his family home each afternoon. His daughter Viviana, meanwhile, would annoy him by hitting tennis balls against the walls of the house.

This prompted Corcuera to build another wall she could hit against, and it was from there that her new improvisational racquet sport began to evolve.

When the ball continued to escape down the side of the wall, Corcuera set up more walls with metal fencing, then fixed a net in the center of the enclosed space.

What was originally conceived as a game for a family in Mexico has since evolved into padel – a popular racket sport combining elements of tennis and squash.

Today, more than 50 years after its creation, padel has 25 million players in more than 90 countries around the world.

Among these is three-time Grand Slam tennis champion Andy Murray, who has known the sport since he was a teenager and trains in Spain.

“I think it’s a great social sport,” Murray told CNN. “I know a lot of former tennis players, when they’ve finished playing, have picked it up again and find it’s great for their fitness, but also not as demanding as tennis.”

Unlike tennis, padel is usually played in doubles, although the same scoring system is used in both sports.

All serves are underarm and, once returned, shots can be played on the fly, after a rebound or after bouncing off the wall. Players can also hit shots into the side and back walls bordering the 20-yard-long, 10-yard-wide field on their side of the net.

Padel racquets are smaller, thicker and chunkier than tennis racquets and the hitting surface is made entirely of carbon fiber or fiberglass – different from the string racquets found in tennis, tennis and tennis. squash or badminton, or the wooden rackets used in pickleball.

Although similar to pickleball – which has grown in popularity in the United States in recent years, earning it the nickname of the unofficial pandemic pastime in the United States – padel has gained traction in other parts of the world. world, namely Europe and South America.

Last year, for example, it is estimated that around 15,000 new padel courts were registered in Europe.

Padel rackets have a different shape and size than those used in tennis or squash.

The game has flourished in Spain, where there are over six million active players and over 20,000 courts, making padel the second most popular participation sport behind football.

“I think it’s going to keep getting bigger and bigger,” Murray said. “I think [tennis] clubs will continue to want to build courts and there will be more demand… In Spain, it’s obviously huge.

“I know that one of my former coaches, Jonas Björkman – who was world No. 1 in doubles and No. 4 in singles – plays all the time. He has opened several centers in Sweden. Feliciano Lopez, with whom I played doubles a few times on the tour… He plays regularly.

Murray, who won his three Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open between 2012 and 2016, sees a bright future for the sport, so much so that he has invested in Game4Padel, Britain’s leading provider of padel courts.

He is part of a list of celebrity ambassadors and investors for the company, including his brother Jamie, former No. 1 in the men’s doubles rankings, Liverpool and Netherlands football player Virgil Van Dijk and former Wales international rugby player Jonathan Davies.

“It was an opportunity to invest in a sport that I love to play,” Murray said. “It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world…I think it’s going to keep getting bigger and bigger. I think clubs will continue to want to build pitches and there will be more demand for that.

A padel court is seen in the Qatari capital Doha earlier this year.

Played on a court one-third the size of a tennis court, padel is low-impact and low-intensity compared to other racquet sports – something that, along with the satisfying “pock” sound of hitting the ball, contributed to his popularity. .

In the World Padel Tour, the sport also has a thriving professional circuit – although currently the strength of padel in numbers is best exhibited in the amateur game. Could it even achieve the same level of worldwide popularity as tennis?

“I think recreationally that could probably be the case in terms of the number of people playing the game, just from what I’ve seen in places like Spain, Italy and France, for example,” Jamie Murray told CNN.

“On a professional level, honestly, I don’t know. With tennis, I guess there’s so much tradition and history and stuff through so many big events – I think it would probably take a lot of time in padel to achieve this.

Besides being investors in the game, the Murray brothers are also avid gamers. Together, you’d think they’d make a useful couple on a padel court – if only they put their sibling rivalry aside.

“We played a few times earlier this year in Australia when we were there for the Australian Open,” Andy explains. “They have a few pitches there and I dealt with him quite easily, so I don’t think I’ve lost to him yet.”

But asked which brother is the better player, Jamie has a different answer.

“That must be me, I think,” he said.

cnn Sport Gt

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