Julian Hale looks at the growing interest in padel, a cross between tennis and squash
Looking for something new? Interested in ball sports? Ever played either tennis or squash? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then padel might be the sport for you. Here’s a brief description of the game, its history and where you can watch the game and where you can play it.
“Padel is a cross between tennis and squash”
The best and simplest description of the game of padel is as a cross between tennis and squash as it’s played on a court that looks similar to a tennis court (only smaller) with walls around it, like squash. It’s a doubles game (two players v two players) that’s all about good hand-eye coordination and game strategy. One player serves underarm into a box diagonally opposite him/her and the opponent has to return whilst ensuring that the ball bounces on the floor at least once before it hits a wall. If it hits a wall without bouncing, that team loses the point. Players can either hit the ball without it bouncing (a volley) or wait for it to bounce before hitting it back. They can also hit the ball against the walls before it reaches the other side of the net. The scoring is the same as in tennis. And the balls used are similar to tennis (but with less pressure) and the rackets have no strings.
Growing popularity in Europe in particular since the 1990s
I came across the sport in Uruguay when I was studying there in the 1990s. It was mainly played in South America and parts of Spain then, but has grown rapidly since. The first Belgian Padel Association was set up in 1992 and there are now two regional structures in Belgium, Padel Vlaanderen for Flanders (www.padelvlaanderen.be) and AFT Padel for Wallonia (www.aftpadel.be). According to padelvlaanderen, padel was brought from Mexico to Spain via the Spanish Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe, a friend of Enrique Corcuera. In 1974, the first European Padel club was founded in Marbella. However, the sport surged in popularity due to its promotion by public figures such as Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Manolo Santana, a former Wimbledon winner. There are now over 300 clubs in Flanders.
“The sport is thought to have been invented in Mexico, by Enrique Corcuera, in 1969”
To give a sense of how much the game is growing, in Wallonia and Brussels, the number of clubs affiliated to AFT Padel has more than doubled since 2019 (53 in 2019 to 108 in 2023) as have the number of padel competition players (2,682 in 2019 to 7,532 in 2023). There are many more players too as AFT Padel has some 85,000 tennis members who are insured to play padel for fun and estimates that there are at least 25,000 who play the game recreationally.
It’s a similar story in Flanders. Since the first club was built (the Herentalse Tennis Club in 2003), the number of clubs has grown fast (more than tripling from 91 in 2019 to 312 in 2023). For competition players, there were 16,172 in 2021 and 27,794 in 2022.
The sport is thought to have been invented in Mexico, by Enrique Corcuera, in 1969.
Padel remained a niche sport for decades but its popularity soared during Covid-19 as it could be played outdoors and didn’t involve physical contact.
Three padel courts can fit in one tennis court.
The number of padel courts is expected to reach 84,000 by 2026, according to the accounting firm Deloitte.
Padel is the second most popular participation sport in Spain behind football. As of 2022, there were five million players in Spain and more than 20,000 courts.
Bandeja: An overhand shot hit with spin rather than power, taken out of the air without letting the ball bounce.
Víbora: Similar to the bandeja but hit with more power and spin, typically diagonally down.
Bajada: When a ball takes a high bounce off the wall and is brought down with an overhand hit.
Chiquita: Similar to a drop shot.
Salida (‘exit’): A player running off the court to save a ball that has bounced off the wall and out of the 20 by 10 court.
Cadete: A behind-the-back shot.
Padel in Brussels
There are more and more padel courts being built in Brussels. To give you an idea of costs, hiring a court might come to around 25 to 50 euro for an hour and a half (plus around 5 euro to hire a racket) but prices vary and it’s best to check with each padel club. The best approach is probably to try it out either with three friends or by joining one of the open sessions organized by some clubs. And then, if you like it, it might be worth buying a racket and joining a club/paying a monthly membership fee.
“The best approach is probably to try it out either with three friends or by joining one of the open sessions”
For Wallonia and Brussels, AFT Padel organises ‘journées découvertes’, days when you can try the game out. Keep an eye out on its website – www.aftpadel.be – for more information about those in 2024. For Flanders, beginners who want to try out padel can easily reserve a court in their neighborhood through www.mijnterrein.be or they can go to www.prooivandekooi.be and find out all the beginner activities / lessons in clubs around where they live.
If you’re interested in having a look first to get a feel for what’s involved, why not attend the Belgian Premier Padel circuit at Tour&Taxis (international event), 20 – 28 April.
Here’s a selection of a few of the many clubs where you can play:
In Evere, White Star has two indoor and two outdoor courts. The club has a whatsapp group where you can meet padel players and organise matches. If you email firstname.lastname@example.org with your GSM number, they will include you in the group.
Address: 350 Avenue des Anciens Combattants, 1140 Evere
In Uccle, Wellington Hockey Club has four outdoor padel courts and hosts a Padel Academy. It organises a ‘Meet n’Play Padel’ session every Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm and on Saturday at 11am for 25 euro (drink included). Group and individual classes are available.
Address: Avenue d’Hougoumont 14, 1180 Uccle
According to Urban Padel’s website, group and individual coaching, tournaments (every weekend), court rental and ‘Open Padel’, where you don’t need a partner or racket, are all available. “There are no losers or winners, everyone gets to have fun and play against others of their skill level,” says the website.
Address: Rue Dante 22, 1070 Anderlecht
The Centre Sportif Mounier has three padel courts (two indoor, one outdoor). Its website advertises online reservation and group classes.
Address: Centre Sportif Mounier, 87 Avenue Emmanuel Mounier, 1200 Woluwe St Lambert
Royal Racing has three outdoor courts. Classes and the possibility to join as a member are available.
Address: 125 Avenue des Chênes, 1180, Brussels
At BSports, classes and the possibility to join as a member are available.
Address: Avenue de la Basilique, 14 to 1082 Brussels
20 – 28/04Watching padel (including an international tournament at Tour&Taxis in April 2024)
If you’re thinking of watching some padel to get a feel of what the game is all about, here are some dates for your diary in 2024:
Lotto Belgian Padel Tour (national event for the best Belgian male and female players)
29/01 – 04/02: Hangar Padel Club
11/03 – 17/03: Location to be confirmed (AFT Padel)
13/05 – 19/05: Paquito Padel Club
02/09 – 08/09: Location to be confirmed (AFT Padel)
06/07 – 14/07
Vlaamse Finals Schweppes Padel Interclub (best teams compete for the title of Flemish Champion)
28/6 – 30/6: To be confirmed (TBC)
Belgian Championships (youth and adults)
6/7 – 7/7 (adults): TBC
8/7 – 14/7 (youth & veterans): TBC
CUPRA Padel Masters (highest players in ranking in Flanders (men and women) compete for the Champions Title)
Belgian state of the Premier Padel circuit at Tour&Taxis (international event)
20 – 28/04
®Padel Vlaanderen Imagellan by Philippe Buissin, Phil MTX