Exactly what IS padel?
We all love padel and know that you don’t get your feet wet when ‘padelling’ (yes, we have been asked), that it’s not difficult to stand up when doing it (yes, we have been…) and no, we don’t freeze extremities if we padel for several hours (yes, we have….) You might deduce from these questions that The Bandeja is based near the coast, so perhaps everyone doesn’t get asked exactly the same ones.
But we’re pretty sure that all of us, at some point, have talked about it and seen the glazed look descend upon the face opposite. It’s padel parenthesis; you know exactly what you are talking about, know that the conversation is very much complete and makes total sense but for the sake of our friend/colleague/family member/random public person you have to add the brackets and explain.
So we’ve compiled this cut-out-and-keep guide that you can share with those bemused people to help them understand our passion and what it is all about. It’s not an exhaustive piece and is likely to be a work in progress.
What is padel?
A racket sport that is a cross between tennis and squash and almost exclusively played as doubles. Like tennis it has a net and service boxes and, like squash, you can play the ball off the side and back walls. Somewhat bizarrely we’ve also seen it compared to five-a-side football. We don’t understand that. Or football (why bother when you’ve got padel?).
Bat, racket, backet?
Players use a bat or racket. For the moment the jury is out on which one. Purists argue that rackets have strings, so therefore it has to be a padel bat. But bat sounds a bit, well, basic. We quite like the approach of Neil Bilton at BoblPadel who suggests backet, which is completely in-line with the new padel vocabulary we’re developing. I am, however, taking an executive decision on the matter and enshrining in The Bandeja style guide that it is a racket. With a ‘ck’.
Padel balls look like tennis balls, feel like tennis balls and smell like tennis balls but are fractionally smaller due to lower pressurisation (around 11psi compared to about 14psi for tennis balls). All the materials and yellowy fuzz are the same. Which makes tennis players feel very at home for the nano second before it hits the wall and rebounds, leaving them floundering like a fish out of water.
Is it pickleball?
Really? No. Just no.
Looks nothing like a tennis or squash court apart from the net, service boxes and sides, which actually makes it sound quite similar. It’s not. A padel court is enclosed and the back portion is glazed. To the sides of the net is metal mesh – the cage. The playing surface is known as ‘turf’ and comes in different colours, pink included. Very Katie Price. Turf is surely a misnomer because it’s not at all grassy nor alive but more akin to astro turf and can be supplied in differing curliness and length. Sanding the surface is normal. More sand means slower play and the amount is a personal choice made by someone at your club. Blame them for the sand in your socks.
A padel court, at 20m x 10m, is also much smaller than its tennis cousin. Depending upon who you talk to you can get two or three padel courts (some people even quote four) into the space occupied by a tennis court. Four is pushing it, three should be OK if you don’t need the run-around space required by WPT-standard pathletes (padel athletes, usually Spanish, often attractive).
If you have a racket you can play (most places will loan or rent you one). You’ll obviously be more comfortable if you have decent trainers and a bit of lycra or sweats on but it’s not completely necessary. I played at Rocks Lane in Chiswick and there was a chap on the next court who had just come from what I presumed to be work – jeans, adidas Gazelle and a shirt. His shoes wouldn’t have given the best grip but he played. However, there’s a lot to be said for getting padel-specific trainers – the herringbone sole is really different to tennis shoes/trainers and designed to grip sanded turf to prevent turf surfing. If you’ve got clay court shoes they are almost the same but obviously not quite the same according to padel shoe manufacturers.
How do you play?
Much the same as tennis but court positioning is different and you can use the walls. There’s no over arm serve, which makes padel immediately more accessible, easier and less intimidating. Service always starts from the right, as in tennis. The server must bounce the ball behind the service line and hit it diagonally cross court into the receiver’s service box. If it hits the wire mesh either before or after bouncing the serve is out. If it hits the glass walls before bouncing it is out. If it hits the turf and then the glass it’s in – and quite often a winning shot if played with pace, spin or into the corner. The serve can also just plop into the receiver’s box to bounce nicely for your opponent to pick their return shot. Hit the net during service and it’s a let. Unless it hits the cage afterwards. Once the serve goes in it’s just a case of returning the ball and making sure it always hits the ground before hitting the glass or the cage. That’s the golden rule, turf first unless volleying. Scoring is exactly the same as tennis and you change ends on odds during matches.
A basic of padel is that you almost always move with your partner up and down the court and side-to-side. The only time your partner is at the back of the court and you are at the net is during your service game. Generally. Other than that you should be roughly lined-up and scuttle back and forth and side-to-side with each other. Positioning for service is another story and, given this guide is for the uninitiated, we don’t need to complicate matters. What is agreed is that both sides want to take control of the net. And avoid no-man’s land (between the white line and the net but obviously not at the net) because your opponents will pick on you if they see you there.
Getting a bit technical now but it’s worth knowing so that you can recognise (when you are playing social padel only) opponents with ‘ck’ at the end of their names. These people will pick on the weaker player, excluding the stronger player – so putting them in the fridge. In social padel it’s not a nice tactic and is neither big nor clever.
Where can I play?
Courts are appearing all over the country but there remain huge chunks of the UK going without. We call them peprived (padel deprived) and very much feel for people in these areas. To find out if you’ve won the padel lottery (plottery, of course) click the Court Map link on our home page.
Why is it so popular?
Sometimes we feel there aren’t enough superlatives to describe padel. It’s easy to play, really fun, addictive and very social (there are four people sharing quite a small space, waving their arms around and diving for balls, it’s fun, competitive and very compelling). Jurgen Klopp loves it: “Padel is, besides football, the best game I’ve ever played. I’m really addicted to it. You make big steps in a short period of time. It’s really fun to play,” he said. Padel devotee Lee Sponaugle, of All Racket Sports in the States, probably best sums it up: “If tennis is chequers, padel is chess. It is really a thinking person’s sport but the great thing about padel is that it is easy to learn and hard to master.”
So, if any one tells you padel is easy, put them in the fridge. 🎾