Padel is fun, social and easy to play. It appears like an oasis in the desert of Spain’s sport crisis.
Padel has overtaken its ‘older brother’ tennis as the primary sport in Spain. Every year, around 900,000 padel racquets are sold compared to 400,000 tennis racquets. This padel mania is spreading all over the country and is no longer a secret that many Spaniards cheated on tennis and fell addictively in love with padel.
But what’s the key to success in the sport?
“Padel gives me a lot of joy and fun,” Pascual Cuesta, an amateur padel player, told Al Jazeera. “It’s very dynamic and engaging and it also allows me to meet new people.”
Social networks have been an important boost. They really helped players organise matches as well as tournaments
There are more than two million amateur padel players in Spain, according to a study carried out by Mediapro Group. This number is expected to rise.
Padel at a click
The internet is also playing a key role in the expansion of the sport.
“Social networks have been an important boost,” Adrian Lopez, a padel club owner, said. “They really helped players organise matches as well as tournaments.”
Even though Spaniards have become crazily addicted to this sport, let’s be clear: they didn’t invent it.
Paddle was born in Mexico in 1969. It then spread to other Hispanic American countries such as Chile and Paraguay but it was Argentina where it has expanded massively since the early 70s.
Now, after four decades, the baton has been passed on to Spain.
Former Spain prime minister José María Aznar helped popularise the sport after he was seen playing padel 15 years ago. Now, the best padel players in the world are Argentine with Juan Martín Díaz sitting top of the world rankings.
“Padel is still a young sport, but I think it has grown incredibly in Spain in the last 10 years,” Diaz said.
Spanish paddle players are now also hitting the paddle scene in a big way. Marta Ortega has been three-time world champion in the junior category at the tender age of 17.
The struggles of professional padel
Padel might have overtaken tennis as a primary sport in Spain, but it is still way far from having the same professional status.
Professional tournaments are struggling to get sponsorship and have little media coverage. The best players in the world are still unknown internationally.
“The crisis has affected sponsorship in all sports in general,” former professional padel player Javier Casadesus said. “We’re lucky because brewery Estrella Damm is investing in professional paddle in these difficult years.”
Padel lovers have been working hard to get international recognition and have created the World Padel Tour, a series of professional paddle tournaments aimed to promote the sport and its best players internationally.
“Last year it was World Paddle Tour’s inaugural year and I think many things have improved since then but there’s still more work to be done,” Díaz added. “I’m sure we’ll see more and more padel being played in other countries and that will make World Padel Tour even more international than what it is now.”
After last year’s success, World Padel Tour (WPT) took place in Barcelona this year.
“WPT is working on increasing the number of tournaments abroad, especially in those countries where there is already a considerable number of padel supporters like the UK, Germany, Mexico and Portugal,” WPT organiser José Luis Serrano said.