If you’re too lazy for squash, not interested in badminton and bored of playing tennis, fear not: there’s a new racket sport craze sweeping the capital. Padel uses the rules of doubles tennis, but it is played on a smaller court, and participants can use the padel court walls to bounce the balls against. Enthusiast Esmerelda Lara has recently set up Just Padel, a company that aims to make the game a central part of Abu Dhabi’s sports scene.
What are the main differences between padel and tennis? Padel is a sport that is always played by four players on a court surrounded by glass and metal mesh. It’s scored like tennis, with games, sets and matches. You make a low serve and the ball has to bounce on the other side of the court (unless you volley it). It is much faster than tennis, however, and what is most important is you interact much more with your partner and your opponents. As in many sports, a good technique trumps a powerful but uncontrolled style of play. Anybody who has played tennis, squash or any other racket sport, will enjoy padel as soon as they try it – the technique is very similar to that of these sports.
What’s the background of the game? Padel was born during the 1970s in Mexico. Enrique Corcueca, the inventor of the sport, installed a net and an extra wall in the middle of his squash court and closed it off with a fence. He played with perforated wooden rackets, which are what gave this sport its first name: ‘paddle tennis’. Enrique’s friend, Alfonso Hohendole, exported the game to Spain, where it became extremely popular, and began to spread throughout the Costa del Sol. It later became huge in Argentina, where it was the most popular sport after soccer in the 1990s.
What made you decide to launch Just Padel now? We are a small group of Spaniards living in Abu Dhabi, and we decided to establish this company because we were confident this sport would be accepted and loved by everybody here in a very short time. There are only two padel courts open to the public at the moment, in Zayed Sports City, but we have two more in process in other sports clubs. There is also an old-style one at Emirates Palace, and we’ve built half a dozen more in private houses. But, in future, we’re hoping to develop many more in other sports clubs, and eventually establish an Abu Dhabi Padel Federation. This is the dream!
Who plays the sport? Is it difficult to master? Well, it’s much easier than tennis, and you don’t have to be very fit to practise it. It’s a healthy sport, so is suitable for all ages and genders. You can play padel with your family and friends as long as your technique level is more or less the same, but you don’t need as much skill as other sports. After two or three lessons you will be able to enjoy padel to the max! There are approximately four million padel players all over the world, concentrated in Latin America and Spain, though it is also practised in other European countries. In the last World Padel Championships more than 12 nations participated – Argentina, Spain and Brazil came out on top.
Do you play yourself? Of course I do! My husband is a fanatical padel player, so what else can I do to spend time with him? Dhs300 for one hour’s coaching (maximum three people). Book lessons through Zayed Sports City (02 403 4222)