Best described as a cross between tennis and squash, using a racket that more resembles a beach bat, padel tennis is tipped as one of the fastest-growing racket sports around the world. Most racket sports are already firmly established – shuttlecocks have been flying in badminton since the 17th century, while squash and modern tennis have been played since the 1800s – yet padel tennis, by comparison, has only been in play for about 40 years.
The game originated in Acapulco, Mexico; 9,000 miles away, padel tennis is now beginning to take off in Dubai. When word reaches me that Emirates Golf Club has unveiled three new padel tennis courts and is offering lessons, I sign myself up. I meet my instructor Carolina Gallo Frias (pictured below and right) on the court at 4pm one blindingly sunny afternoon, where she hands me a racket and asks me if I’ve ever played racket sports before. I explain that I took squash and tennis lessons at school, although that was 18 years ago so is hardly worth taking into account.
On the court – about half the size of a tennis court – Carolina talks me through the rules, describing padel tennis as ‘the second most important sport in Spain’, her home country.
As games are played as doubles, it’s a good way to meet new people, and she explains that many players are attracted by this sociable aspect. What’s more, she notes that it’s suited to all ages.
I’m keen to learn, and listen intently as Carolina explains the basic rules. While you serve and return the ball in the same manner as tennis, you’re not only aiming to get it over the net, but also to bounce and hit the wall behind your opponent. After the first serve, you can bounce the ball off the fence at the side too. Interestingly, the doors either side of the court must stay open, and if a ball is hit outside, the game continues beyond the court. This is part of what makes the game exciting, I’m told, though we will be playing within the confines of the court.
Though she has been teaching padel for three years, Carolina has been a tennis instructor for longer, so it’s no surprise she knows her stuff. Her teaching manner however, is what I’d call ‘brisk’. When it becomes apparent that I lack the hand-arm-eye coordination that racket sports require, I soon find myself on the receiving end of her ire. ‘What is that? What are you doing? Wrong!’ she gestures to the wrist that I keep turning downward, sending ball after ball into the net, then overcompensating in the other direction and sending even more upwards into orbit. As the strings are firmer than those of a tennis racket, the padel racket sends the ball flying with far less effort – apparently most rackets are typically made with fibreglass, which is light but hard.
After a few rounds of practising, during which I show minimal signs of improvement but a growing resistance to her manner of teaching (I know what my verdict is on the connection between the two), we’re joined by two players for a match. I can’t remember half the rules and, realising I’ve probably hit nine out of ten balls either into the net or out to the car park, I feel enormously uncomfortable at the prospect of playing a game.
As Carolina zooms around our half of the court, shouting at me whenever a ball heads in my direction, catching rebounds off the walls behind and to the side of us, my frustration grows, my confidence diminishes,
and I’m ready to pack it in, not 60 minutes since the lesson began.
Being put in a match situation before I even felt comfortable getting the ball safely into the other half of the court during practice has quickly extinguished the buoyancy I felt in the first few moments of the lesson. In the end, I feel embarrassed rather than encouraged, and the chance I’ll come back for a second lesson is about as likely as the entire Sheikh Zayed Road being made a pedestrian-only zone. But that’s just me, and one instructor.
Those contributing to it becoming ‘the fastest growing racket sport’ can’t all be wrong, so I urge you to give it a go. If nothing else, it’s 60 minutes of cardio and a good dose of vitamin D.
Padel tennis lessons Dhs300 per person for 50-minutes, free 60-minute intro for new players. Court hire Dhs50 per person per hour. Real Racquet Academy, Emirates Golf Club, firstname.lastname@example.org (04 417 9850).