It’s one of the world’s fastest-growing sports but most Australians have never heard of padel, a new game that’s described as “tennis with walls” or “squash in the sun”.
“If you put tennis and squash together and they had a baby, you would get padel,” says Oliver White, a professional padel player and coach from Padel Gold Coast, Queensland’s first padel club.
“It’s like the third child. It has the best of everything, and it has the freedom to be the greatest.”
Played in 60 countries by more than 10 million people, padel is achieving big things. In Spain, it’s the second-most popular sport nationally, after soccer. And now it was gaining momentum in Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic closed international borders.
It was professional padel player Matt Thomas and his business partner Matt Barrelle who first brought padel down under in January 2016.
Originally from the UK, Thomas is now ranked as Australia’s No.1 player.
“It was a massive risk to bring padel to Australia,” Thomas says. “But I already had experience with padel in Spain and the UK, and we thought that Australia had a great market for it being an outdoor nation that loves its sport.”
Beginning with two demonstration courts in Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter, the pair then opened four courts at Tennis World in North Ryde, at a cost of between $60,000 and $80,000 a court.
“It’s difficult to install the courts because we’ve got to get people in from Spain to install all the equipment,” Thomas says.
“Initially we wanted to show people what the sport is. Now it’s about expanding to new locations. Our goal is to have 25 padel clubs.”
One of the newest locations where players can have a hit at padel is in Perth, thanks to twin sisters Vanesa and Sylvia Gonzalez-Quinones, two padel enthusiasts from Spain.
Previously members of Padel Sydney, the sisters set up three courts at Reabold Tennis Club in Perth, bringing the total number of public courts nationwide to 10 – there is one private court in Adelaide.
“We put everything we have into this,” says Vanesa Gonzalez-Quinones. “But we’ve seen how this sport is growing everywhere. We’ve seen it in Spain and now we’ve seen it in Europe. With the revolution of this game, we believe it will grow in Australia too.”
When asked why the sport has garnered so many devoted players internationally, Gonzalez-Quinones points to the social aspects of the game.
“This game is more about fun. It’s very social and it is very easy to play. There’s not many sports that are so easy to pick up,” she says.
White from Padel Gold Coast, located at KDV Sport, agrees.
“It’s super easy to learn, it’s always doubles, you can smash it off the walls like squash and you can smash it right outside the court. It’s a little whacky, really good fun and very social.”
Padel is played using tennis balls and the tennis scoring system, but all serves are underhand. The courts are smaller than tennis courts and include sidewalls and back walls, making it easier to enjoy conversation while getting fit.
With the Padel World Championships scheduled for 2021, and rumours circulating that it could become an Olympic sport, Thomas said it was an exciting time to be involved in the sport.
“We’re trying to get more players in this country and grow the Australian team,” he says. “We’d also like to have an Australian junior team.”
But White adds that padel was not just for elite players.
“Padel is great for all ages and all abilities, even if you’re 60 or 70,” he says. “Once you know the game reasonably well, you don’t have to move that much because you can use the walls to your advantage.”