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Padel takes community by storm

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Elian Weiner and Mark Robbins have always been avid tennis and squash players, but now they’re both hooked on a new sport, padel.

Likewise, Ricky Lewis played padel for the first time at the beginning of last year. “Although I’d seen the sport in Spain, within 30 seconds of being on the court hitting the ball with the padel racket, I said to myself, ‘This is just beyond fantastic,’” he recalls.

Lewis and Weiner love this game so much, they invested in it, creating their company, Epic Padel, and opened four padel courts at Huddle Park in Linksfield last week. One of the courts is the first singles padel court in South Africa.

There are also two standard double courts and a covered doubles court. The latter is the first covered outdoor court in South Africa, making play possible during bad weather. This follows the one court Epic Padel built at the Glen Country Club in Clifton, Cape Town.

Padel is more than a combination of tennis and squash. It’s a singles or doubles sport played on an astroturf court that is 20m by 6m for a singles court and 20m by 10m for a doubles court. The court is divided by a net and enclosed on all sides by walls, enabling players to play shots off the glass provided that the ball has bounced only once.

The scoring system is the same as tennis, the ball is similar to the one used in tennis, and instead of playing with tennis rackets, padel bats are used. During play, the ball must hit the ground before touching the walls or net.

In 1969, Mexican businessperson Enrique Corcuera set up the first-ever padel court at his holiday home in Acapulco when he adapted his squash court with elements of platform tennis, creating what he called Paddle Corcuera. The court was smaller than a tennis court because, apparently, the measurements in his home were a bit cramped and they had to fit a tennis court inside 3m to 4m high walls.

Corcuera’s Spanish friend, Alfonso, of Hohenlohe-Langenburg played the game at Corcuera’s home and decided to create the first two padel courts at a tennis club in Marbella, Spain, in 1974.

The following year, Julio Menditeguy, an Argentinian member of that tennis club, imported the sport to Argentina, where the game took off almost overnight.

In 1993, the sports council of Spain recognised padel as a sport. Today, it’s the fastest-growing action sport in the world. It’s huge in Europe, and is the second biggest sport in Spain behind soccer, with more than 200 000 players. It has piqued the interest of soccer players like Lionel Messi, Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp, and tennis player Jamie Murray.

Padel was first introduced to South Africa at the Val De Vie Estate in Paarl in 2019.

During February the following year, padel courts were opened at the iJUMP Arena in Clearwater Crossing, Strubens Valley.

In October 2020, padel courts were opened at Century City, Cape Town, because Brit King from Action Padel South Africa and her husband used to live in Girona, Spain, where they played the sport.

During the same month, the South African Padel Association (SAPA) was formed to regulate and grow the sport.

Three months later, SAPA was recognised as an associate member of Tennis South Africa, enabling it to build a successful league and allow players to compete in their province, gain colours and represent South Africa internationally.

Whereas Weiner played his first padel match at Century City 18 months ago, the Johannesburg-based Robbins was introduced to the sport at the start of this year.

“The game grabbed me instantly,” says Robbins. “I have played most of my games at the German Country Club in Sandton and recently had the pleasure of playing at Huddle Park. I aim to play three to four times a week, and am looking forward to playing at all the new up-and-coming venues.”

Weiner says Epic Padel is doing “fantastically” in Clifton. “In four months, we had more than 1 500 individual people play on our courts.”

He says padel is growing fast. “You can’t move anywhere without people talking about the sport. The beautiful thing about it is that it’s accessible to a wide range of players. It’s a very easy sport to learn. As an adult, tennis or squash is hard to learn, whereas with padel, I’ve seen people who never hit a ball before in their lives going to a padel court, and within 10 to 15 minutes, they can have a rally.”

Says King, “Padel doesn’t have an overhand serve like in tennis. It’s not about strength because it’s played in a small area. It’s hard to hit the ball out, and the ball isn’t as pressurised. You get your workout and a very good laugh. You can play as a family or with mixed teams as the weaker player doesn’t stand out as much.”

Robbins enjoys padel because he loves the camaraderie and meeting new people. “The game possesses a high level of competitiveness, which makes every game exciting, fun, and addictive,” he says.

Says Lewis, “You might have a family and a busy lifestyle. I absolutely love golf, but it takes up so much of your time, whereas you can play padel for an hour and a half. You can play it at 06:30 in the morning, and you can play at 20:00 at night.”

Weiner is a Certified Level 1 padel coach and a member of the South African Invitational Team that travelled to Egypt for the Africa Padel Club Championships about a month ago. “Most of the other countries were North African countries, and they’ve been playing the sport a lot longer than us, but we were competitive,” he says.

In July, he will represent South Africa at padel in the Maccabi Games. “The Jewish community has taken to padel in a big way. In Cape Town, we had a Maccabi Games trials with 30 people,” he says.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Shenker

    May 26, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    Someone brought padel tennis to SA in the late 70’s early 80’s. It was at tennis courts at St Davids in Illovo. If I am not mistaken and I played there once. Never took off.

    I think the guy who brought it was Rostofsky

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