May 17, 2023
While pickleball looks a lot like tennis; padel, like squash, has walls. Good players can turn to slam the ball off the back wall—or scoop it over the net. They dance across the tight court, teasing each other with shots close to the wall.
“It’s volley as flirtation, a tarantella,” exults the Times.
The two sports took off during the pandemic, as people turned to socially distanced activities. They’re on parallel tracks. Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, while padel is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
The schism is yet another example of American sports exceptionalism. If pickleball is Fahrenheit, padel is Celsius. It’s the centimeters to our inches, the football to our “football.”
“The U.S. is very particular,” said Lisandro Borges, the chief executive of the World Padel Tour in Latin America. He pointed to the Super Bowl, to basketball, to baseball. “It’s like another planet.”
There are marked similarities between pickleball and padel. Both are known as doubles games, although both can be played one-on-one. Both are easy to learn.
Both are easier than tennis, but padel is the faster and more physically demanding of the two. There’s a lot more running, and the ball moves faster. It’s not a retirement-community sport, no matter the level of skill.
The sport, which started in Mexico in 1969, has been played for decades in Spain and Argentina. During the pandemic, interest in padel boomed in countries across Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. According to Matchi, a platform that people use to reserve time on courts for racket sports, there were an estimated 25 million regular players worldwide last year.
Matchi estimates that about six million regular players are in Spain, the most established market in Europe. In France, padel has been one of the fastest-growing sports since 2020. During the pandemic, it grew so fast in Sweden that the building of courts soon outstripped demand.
In Chile, padel is becoming a national obsession. There are about 600 clubs across the country, and new ones are emerging, Borges says. In March, he oversaw Chile’s first international tournament, part of the World Padel Tour.
“Postpandemic,” Borges says, “it was like an explosion in Chile.”
In Santiago, many sports stores in the Costanera Center, a major mall, display padel equipment in their front windows. The city’s existing courts are often fully booked after work hours. More are being built, as interest in the sport continues to grow.
On a recent evening, a padel club here was full, as friends played under floodlights.
One devotee, Patricio Guzman, started during the pandemic. Guzman, 38, never played tennis, but now plays padel four times a week—sometimes five, if he competes in a tournament. “I’m addicted to it,” he said.
Research contact: @nytimes