Could padel soon become an Olympic sport? Gruffudd Owen explores this and six other facts about 'tennis's quirky cousin'
Made in Mexico
Although variations of the sport have been played for more than a century, the modern form of padel was invented by Enrique Corcuera, a Mexican industrialist, in 1969. It is believed that Corcuera – wishing to create a less physically demanding racquet game for his family – converted the Fronton court at his Acapulco holiday home by enclosing it with walls and adding a net in the middle. He christened the sport ‘Padel Corcuera’.
The game heads to Spain
The extravagant Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe – founder of the famous Marbella Club on Spain’s Costa del Sol – can be credited with introducing padel to the other side of the Atlantic. Upon visiting Mexico in 1974, the prince was so impressed with the game that he brought it back to his resort, building the country’s first two padel courts there.
The first championships
From the Americas to Europe, and back again. Millionaire Argentinians holidaying at Marbella in the late 1970s sampled the game and decided to champion its appeal back home, leading to a rapid surge in popularity. Further expansion in Hispanic countries during the 1980s eventually saw the formation of the International Padel Federation (FIP) in 1991, with the first world championships being held a year later in Spain. Argentina inevitably won both the men’s and women’s categories in the inaugural edition, and have gone on to become the most successful nation in the sport’s history, having been crowned men’s champions nine times and women’s champions eight times.
The dominance of Spanish-speaking countries in padel is reflected in the FIP rankings, where 85 of the 100 top-ranked players hail from Spain, Argentina or Uruguay. However, Brazil’s Pablo Lima currently sits top of the pile, a position he has held since 2015.
Tennis’s quirky little cousin
While padel has a lot in common with tennis, there are notable differences that give the sport its unique nature. It is predominantly a doubles game played with a stringless racquet, and all serves must be hit underarm at or below the waist. The presence of walls on all sides is the major deviation from tennis, although the scoring methods remain the same.
Making inroads in the Gulf
Over the past few years, regions outside the Hispanic community have begun to embrace padel with a view to challenging the Spanish-Argentinian duopoly. The game has witnessed a notable increase in popularity on the Arabian Gulf following the establishment of the United Arab Emirates Padel Association (UAEPA) in July 2014. There are currently more than 100 players who compete in the UAE’s padel competitions, with the inaugural Dubai Padel Masters held in October 2015.
A future Olympic sport?
As padel gains more and more players and fans, there have been growing calls for it to be considered as an Olympic sport. His Highness Sheikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Bin Juma Al Maktoum, president of the UAEPA, has expressed his desire to see the sport included in future Games, and while we may not see padel being played in Rio this summer, there is a hope that it will one day join its more established racquet sport cousins at the greatest sporting event in the world.