The Princess of Wales, Elle Macpherson and David Beckham are all fans of padel, while Prada and Versace are now designing kit. GTG’s fitness freak Kerry Potter tries the hottest sport of the summer (sorry, Wimbledon)

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Sorry everyone, you need to stash away your tennis racket, yoga mat, football and gym equipment pronto because there is a new hot sport in town. Padel tennis s a hybrid of tennis and squash, using a padel bat that looks like it’s come from a Swingball set and slightly decompressed tennis balls. You play on a padel court (indoor or outdoor) that’s about a third of the size of a tennis court. It has glass and mesh-fenced walls at the back and sides, so the ball can bounce off them.

It is proving to be celebrity catnip. Wimbledon champ Serena Williams is a fan, while England men's football team manager Gareth Southgate has been playing in Germany to de-stress during the Euros.  David Beckham has been spotted playing in Spain, as has our columnist Elle Macpherson (who does it in a Victoria Beckham dress!) while Andy Murray has invested in padel operator, Game4Padel. According to The Sun, the Prince and Princess of Wales play on courts near Windsor. It’s also hugely popular among the monied set at the Bamford Club in the Cotswolds and Babington House in Somerset, with both clubs installing padel courts alongside their tennis ones. Not surprisingly, fashion houses including Prada and Versace, have now started cranking out pricey padel rackets.

The sport has spread far beyond chichi private members clubs and the posh bits of the Cotswolds though. You can play padel tennis at leisure centres and parks across the country. In 2019, there were just 40 padel courts in the UK, today there are over 500. Bristol is a particular hotspot (no one is sure why). Tennis clubs are converting some of their courts into padel courts. Someone in my town likes it so much they’ve built one in their back garden, which cost just shy of £70,000. Everyone, it seems, is getting the padel tennis bug.

Here I am being coached by the very patient Jack Hazelwood, co-founder of Padel Shift, a company that’s building a network of padel courts across the UK. Jack and his partner Jack Chaplin (you have to be called Jack to work there) run the courts at both the Bamford Club and Elkstone Studios near Cheltenham, a very chic co-working space, which is where I played.

Let’s just say I won’t be troubling the padel world rankings any time soon. But I absolutely loved it. I found it far less frustratingly stop/start than tennis, as the walls keep the ball in play. You can’t beat the thrill of a long rally and there are loads to be had with padel. And it’s very sociable – the small court means you can easily have a chat across the net between points. It was a decent workout but you don’t have to be super fit to enjoy it – you don’t have to cover anything like as much ground as you do in tennis.

“People pick it up so quickly,” says Jack, who was once the 43rd best tennis player in the country, by age, before he converted to padel, becoming a top coach and player. “Within minutes you’re having a rally. You can progress really quickly, unlike many other sports, and that makes people feel good.”

I’m a regular (albeit middling) tennis player and can see why former tennis diehards like Jack are switching to the newer sport. But equally you don’t need to have ever picked up a tennis racket to play padel.

Is padel tennis easier than tennis?

Yes, and that’s a big part of its appeal. There is zero time wasted trudging after balls that have gone out because here they bounce off the walls and back into play.

You also serve underarm so there’s no chance of being knocked unconscious by a 130mph belter from a Djokovic wannabe. The game is less about power and more about strategy, meaning a more level playing field for men and women, and mixed abilities and ages, to play together. Fun for all the family, basically.

Why is padel so popular now?

It’s a Spanish import. It was created in Mexico in the late ’60s by a millionaire who didn’t have room for a full tennis court on his property. It was adopted by a Spanish pal who’d visited him and is now the second most popular sport in Spain after football, with 20,000 padel courts. It was originally called paddle tennis but in 1993, the Sports Council of Spain changed its spelling to 'padel' to make it easier for Spaniards to pronounce. At this point, it became recognised it as a sport.

 Many Brits spot it being played while on holiday in Spain and seek out courts when they come home.

The celebrity endorsements obviously help raise its profile, plus padel courts take up less space than tennis courts so are often more cost-effective to build.

And it has its own laid-back culture which is bringing young people into the game. “It’s also a really social sport,” says Jack. “In Spain, you don’t get a padel court without a bar attached and they often play music. It’s not stuffy or traditional, like at some tennis clubs.”

Padel tennis rules

  • The scoring is the same as tennis
  • You must serve underarm
  • The ball must bounce on the ground before it hits a wall
  • You can volley, as in tennis
  • Due to the speed of the game, you can only play doubles (very occasionally you find a court designed for singles)
  • You must play with your hand through the racket’s safety loop, to stop it flying out of your hand and hitting another player
  • Pairs change sides of the court after the first, third, five and so on game, as in tennis
  • Matches are always three sets

How much does it cost to play padel?

Currently it can be quite expensive to book a court as demand for courts outstrips supply, but prices will soon fall as more courts open up. Where I played, at Elkstone Studios, it costs £32-£36 per hour hire a court (less if you’re a member of the co-working space), but split between four players, I think that’s reasonable. Meanwhile, an outdoor padel court in Regent’s Park, central London, costs £25-£36, depending on the day.

Padel tennis Youtube

Totally new to padel? There’s lots of helpful content on YouTube, like this video from the United States Professional Tennis Association which is a basic, concise guide to how to play the sport.

Padel courts near me

Check out your local park and leisure centre or search on the Lawn Tennis Association website (the governing body of tennis also looks after padel).

What’s the difference between padel tennis and pickleball?

When I posted a video of myself playing padel on Instagram, several people thought it was pickleball. The two sports are frequently confused. Pickleball evolved from badminton and is one of the fastest growing sports in the US. It uses a plastic ball, the racket is solid rather than perforated and the court is open rather than walled. It’s a bit like table tennis but, er, without the table.

What padel kit do I need?

For playing padel with your bougie friends: Prada racket and bag, £1430

Chic and understated, this Prada set is for the sports fanatic who has everything including extremely deep pockets.

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For the show-off: Versace padel balls, £55

Why have normal padel balls when you can have Versace ones? The logo is plastered everywhere, just in case someone doesn’t immediately clock that they're Versace. We bet Elton John’s got these.

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For non-millionaires: Kuikma padel racket, £29.99

A more viable option for us civilians, this Decathlon number in lime green or neon orange, is perfectly priced for beginners.

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our verdict