UK women’s padel going from strength to strength
These are exciting times for the women’s game in the UK – GB padel’s golden girl Tia Norton wowed the US in its first ever Professional Padel League with her Las Vegas Smash team (read about it here) and Aimee Gibson, an exciting new talent, has just ascended to the top of the LTA domestic rankings and turned professional. And equally so the GB senior and super ladies who secured impressive eighth and fifth places respectively at last week’s FIP European Senior Championships in Alicante. RJ Mitchell reports.
And now The Bandeja can reveal a further hugely positive development in the women’s game with the appointment of Libby Fletcher as the GB Women’s ‘open’ team coach alongside Alvaro Fernandez Guerrero – the first appointment of a female padel coach in a significant capacity to develop women at elite level in the UK. Libby, a Tennis World Middlesbrough coach and captain/coach of the GB seniors teams in Alicante, replaces Max Lutostanski.
As Matt Stanforth, LTA Padel Performance Manager, revealed this significant step and assessed positive developments for the women’s game, he had no hesitation in forecasting that its future looks bright: “Libby has extensive experience working with performance tennis players and helping players on that development journey. She is also a padel player and has been involved with padel for a number of years. So she has both sides – the coaching and the programme management experience as well as actually having done it herself as a player. She understands the challenges players go through having had these experiences herself as well as with players she has worked with. She brings a lot of experience to the role.
“I think it’s very important we have female coaches working in a performance environment; as well as inspiring new young female players I also want to inspire female coaches on the performance side. Libby is already doing a fantastic job along with Alvaro to work with our women players, with both coaches really pushing the players. Libby has been a brilliant addition to the team,” added Matt.
While Tia Norton may have lost her GB No 1 ranking to Aimee Gibson (due in part to her American residency at the PPL over the last six weeks) Matt was delighted with the way she flew the Union Jack across the Atlantic: “As a solo Brit it was a great achievement and congratulations to her. We are very happy for Tia. Speaking with her afterwards she said her five weeks went really quickly and I think that represents how intense that period of competition was. She did fantastically well.”
After victories alongside Tia at Rocks Lane, then in LTA Grade One events at Surge Padel in Harrogate and We Are Padel Derby, new GB No 1 Aimee partnered with Catherine Rose for further Grade One victories at West of Scotland Padel and Guernsey as she strode impressively towards the top ranking and last week announced she was turning professional.
Matt has been amazed by her meteoric progress: “Aimee has really just come onto the scene this season and she has done fantastically well and has shown a real hunger and commitment to get better and to compete at the highest level.
“For her to take that next step and turn pro is fantastic and I think it’s vital for the women’s game. It’s a big step and I’m really pleased for Aimee to make that which will not only help her but also hopefully inspire others. The number of GB players coming through is another really healthy sign of how well the women’s game is developing.”
As Matt explained, while there are more new faces emerging at the top of the domestic game, achieving the correct balance between new talents and experienced campaigners is vital: “It’s important that we have the right combination of players who have been there and have that bit more experience and can also play an important part in bringing the next generation through.
“Players such as Cat Rose and Lisa Phillips have been competing a lot on the Grade One circuit and then Victoria Nicholas combined with Claire Smith at Stratford to win the Grade One were very impressively.
“There are also a number of other players on the periphery, so it is great that it’s not just one or two coming through but a group who can all push each other on through internal competition. The camaraderie between the group has also been fantastic.”
All of which has meant that the GB Squad for this year’s European Championships is almost complete: “We have selected a group initially of 13 players with a couple of others we are still looking at and who can still make the selection. We had our first women’s training camp in June which went really well. The idea is that we will come together more and not just for major championships. Now we have Alvaro and Libby as the two lead coaches on the women’s side they are helping the players by providing them with direction and clarity on what they need to work on so that they know exactly what they need to do to get better. But what has been great to see has been the shared hunger, passion and commitment to get better.
“I think we have a really good group of women’s players who will grow and develop and set the standard for new and aspiring players to follow on down the line and that is exciting.” 🎾