What is Padel and Pickleball & Why are They so Popular?

Historical games similar to other sports are growing globally. We explore padel and pickleball, especially in terms of their popularity.

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"It's a great social game and is not as demanding on the body"

Sports such as padel and pickleball are increasingly becoming popular worldwide, both from a competitive and fitness perspective.

These historical games have similarities to several racquet sports, particularly tennis.

Padel and pickleball also have relevance to Desi communities. This includes not just in India and Pakistan but also worldwide, with places like Qatar topping the bill.

The two sports have the advantage of being played in various conditions, especially in countries with warmer climates.

Many sportspeople of varied age groups also see the enjoyable side to padel and pickleball.

We provide a closer insight into padel and pickleball, as well as what makes them so popular, with exclusive reactions from super marathon man, Ziyad Rahim.

PADEL

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Padel is a racquet sport but separate from paddle tennis. The latter is familiar to many in America and Canada.

Most people play padel in pairs as a doubles game. Though besides, all-male or female doubles matches, occasionally in leagues, mixed doubles also come into play.

Sportspeople always play padel in a court, which is enclosed. The court is around 25% smaller in size than that of a tennis one.

One should not also confuse padel with the US and Canadian country club winter- summer sport, platform tennis.

Padel is quite a contrast to platform tennis in terms of court, rules, and playing styles. People can play padel both indoor and outdoor.

Origins

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It was during 1969 that Enrique Corcuera became the inventor of the sport in Acapulco, Mexico.

He made the decision to modify his home squash court, with facets of platform tennis, describing it as “Paddle Cocuerra.”

His Spanish friend Alfonso from German county, Hohenlohe-Langenburg had a go at the sport in Enrique’s home and immediately fell in love with it.

Instantly after, Alfonso went on to develop the first two padel courts in Marbella tennis club (Spain) during 1974.

To make it more competitive, Alfonso made a few alternations to the original designs of Enrique. Though, this was the first of many iterations, following the subsequent 20 years in Spain.

Meanwhile, Julio Menditeguy, an Argentinian member of the Marbella club became very passionate about the sport.

Hence, he decided to introduce the game in his native Argentina.

On July 12, 1991, the International Padel Federation (FIP) came to fruition under the legal representatives of various associations by means of public deeds.

This included the Argentine Padel Association, Spanish Padel Association, and Urguyan Padel Association.

After creating the first courts in Spain, Padel began expanding across the geography of Spain. By the 2000s decade, there were over 500 padel facilities, with many hotels in Spain housing courts.

In 2005, Padel had firmly built a Spanish foundation, with over 1000 clubs in the country.

During that time, the core padel associations joined forces to organise an International Championship in Spain. This was the start of a Padel Pro Tour, which was a regular feature until 2012.

From then on, Padel was constantly seeing growth and popularising across the globe.

Within the professional space, the World Padel Series came to replace the Padel Pro Tour. This was the most important global padel championship at the time.

As of 2021, the World Championships are an integral part of their calendar. These include the World Team Championships and World Padel Open.

The Court and Facts

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The rules of padel direct that the playing area has to be rectangular, 10 metres in width and 20 metres long, with walls around it.

The court has a division in the form of a net. The height of the net is 92 centimetres at each end, with a drop to 88 centimetres in the middle.

The framework connects 2 metres wide by 3 meters high. In addition, there is a 1-metre mesh height on top of the glass black walls (10 metres).

The extra 1 metres in height continues for 2 meters on each corner over the walls. This equates to a 4-metre height for the back walls and service corners.

The remaining sidewalls stand at a height of 3 metres. The placement of the service lines comes up at 3 metres, before the back wall.

There is also a middle line, dividing the centre box into two. The 5-centimetre lines in width have to be clearly in sight.

There also has to be a minimum of 6 meters in height from the playing field and the ceiling.

In the event of a singles game, the size dimensions include 6 (w) by 20 metres (l).

The padel racquet is solid without strings. As per the rules, it has to have holes in it. Players also have to deliver both first and second serve underhand.

The scoring system is like tennis, but the padel balls in use have a degree of less pressure.

India

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From a Desi point of view, India is an official member of FIP. The Indian Padel Federation (IPF) is the national governing body, which runs on a not-for-profit basis.

IPF has a commitment to developing and promoting the sport in the country. Working closely with the world governing body, IPF aims to make the sport more popular in the country.

IPF comprises members that have rich experience in sports, marketing, and entertainment.

Despite coming from various walks of life, each member has a common goal – that is to send a strong squad to every big padel tournament globally.

IPF has had a contribution in padel being one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. They are also inspiring generations to adopt the sport in the country.

Compare to other nations, India was a late entrant to padel, with the sport coming to the country in 2016.

The first city to have a padel court was Bengaluru.

Subsequently, the country has hosted national padel tournaments, along with other events at all levels, including junior.

Karnataka State Padel Association was one of the first to receive formal recognition in India. Many of the padel games in India take place on an artificial turf surface.

Padel Popularity in Qatar

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Padel is gradually becoming very popular everywhere in the world. However, we can take the example of Qatar where the sport is booming after initially making an entry around 2017.

Represented by the Qatar Tennis, Squash, and Badminton Federation (QTSBF), the peninsular Arab country, became a member of the FIP.

This is after Qatar was selected to host the Padel World Cup in November 2021.

Qatar based Pakistani multiple Guinness World Record holder in marathon running, Ziyad Rahim spoke about how he got into padel and what attracted him to it:

“I got introduced to padel in 2020 when some of my squash team members asked me to join them at a local club.

“Since it’s a hybrid of squash and tennis, it kinda came naturally to me and I picked it up pretty quickly.

“Thus, we set up a club called PADEL VIKINGS and we play regularly around Doha.

“It’s a great social game and is not as demanding on the body as squash and tennis. That’s one reason why it has become so popular in the region.

Speaking about the popularisation of the sport, Ziyad adds:

“After football, it has become the 2nd most popular sport in Qatar and will continue to grow as more kids and adults are taking part.

“Due to the hot and humid climate most of the year, the air-conditioned indoor courts keep the participants engaged all year round to stay fit.

“Hence, the popularity of the sport will continue to grow. Moreover, big corporates have shown a keen interest in the sport and regularly sponsor tournaments awarding cash prizes to winners.”

Ziyad also points out that padel is particularly popular amongst the local population, including rich Qataris who have padel courts in their villas and palaces.

PICKLEBALL

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Pickleball has become one of the fast-growing sports, particularly in the United States of America.

Similar to many other racquet games, this is a paddle sport, which brings together aspects of badminton, table tennis, and tennis.

Two players can play a singles match, or four can feature in a doubles game.

Naturally, one of the differences is that in a singles match players have to cover a larger area in comparison to a doubles game.

Players use a composite or a solid wooden paddle to hit a resilient plastic ball, also familiar as a wiffle ball, over a net.

The layout of the court is very much like a badminton one, with the net and rules having similarities to tennis – be it with several modifications.

The court size is 20 feet by 44 feet, with the net hanging at 36 inches on either end and 34 inches in the middle. The serving line has a seven feet distance from the net.

The sport came into existence during the 60s, as a children’s game to play in the back garden.

Over the years, the game has become popular in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings.

These include community centres, PE (Physical Education) classes, parks, private health clubs, and youth-based facilities.

In the USA, several competitions take place, including the Pickleball National Championships and US Open Pickleball Championship.

History

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The sport all began at the home of American businessman and politician, Joel Pritchard, in the summer of 1965.

His two friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum came back to his home after a game of golf. Attempting to play badminton, the trio were unable to locate a shuttlecock.

Therefore, the three of them went into improvising mode, lowering the net, using a plastic ball, and making paddles from shed plywood.

The first paddles that were pickleball specific were made by McCallum on his cellar saw machine.

McCallum went on to establish Pickle-Ball, Inc., manufacturing paddles made from wood to help develop the sport.

Joel’s wife Joan Pritchard told the Official USA Pickleball site about the origins of the name:

“The name of the game became Pickle Ball after I said it reminded me of the Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats.

“Somehow the idea the name came from our dog Pickles was attached to the naming of the game, but Pickles wasn’t on the scene for two more years.

“The dog was named for the game, but stories about the name’s origin were funnier thinking the game was named for the dog.”

Ever since the 70s, the game had grown in the USA, with a rules update coming during 2005.

Then, Glendolyn Sanchez-Vicario III introduced the sport to the global arena when wearing the Spanish colours in the Special Olympics.

The All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) became a Full Member of the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) on January 1, 2018.

The Pickleball Association of Pakistan (PAP) has been an Associate Member since January 8, 2019.

Rules

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Pickleball players serve underarm, hitting the ball underneath the waste level.

Players have to be behind the baseline on one side of the centre line when serving. They must serve to their opponent in a diagonal direction.

You can only get a point on your own serve. A point ends, following a fault. What determines a fault? This includes:

  • Failing to hit the serve in the diagonal service court of an opponent.
  • Failure to hit the ball above the net.
  • Failing to hit the ball prior to second bounce on either side of the player’s net.
  • Hitting the ball beyond the court in no man’s land.
  • When the server volleys the ball upon the first return.
  • Entering into the non-volley territory (familiar as the “kitchen”, stepping into the first seven feet from the net when trying to volley the ball).
  • Make contact with the net with your body, paddles, or an assistance device.

When a ball bounces, a player can step into the non-play zone. But if they wish to play a volley, they must exit this area.

The first player or side to reach 11 points with a margin lead of two is victorious. If a player or team are all square at 10-10, one can only win by a margin of 2 points.

Competition matches can be first to 11, 15, or 21. Players have to cross over at 6, 8, or 11 total points.

The server or server and fellow pair will normally remain at the baseline at least until the first return of serve, following the ball bouncing once.

In a doubles game at 0-0, the service changes after one fault. After the first fault, each team has an allocation of two faults before the service changes.

In a singles match, service will change after each fault. In 2021, a change in the rule was made, where, unlike tennis, a let cannot be replayed.

India and Pakistan

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Sports enthusiast Sunil Valakar had the chance to play pickleball for the first time in Canada in 1999.

He made a second trip to Canada in 2006, as a result of his passion for the sport. He came back to India, bringing a couple of paddles and balls with him.

Upon his return, he began demonstrating the uniqueness of pickleball to many Mumbai sportspeople.

The sport received a very warm reception across a wide section of society. This was a little surprising for Sunil.

He tells Mumbai Mirror that pickleball being a mashup of tennis was pivotal in him introducing it to India:

“In 2006, I went to Cincinnati, to play at a tennis clinic. I heard one coach yelling out ‘sideways and swing’.

“I heard the same thing when I played pickleball six years back [and] I realised how similar tennis and pickleball are. It was then then that I decided to introduce pickleball to my countrymen.”

India’s modern society is eager to play the sport, especially with it being fun and good for fitness.

Pickleball has gone on to reach 16 Indian states, with approximately 3,000 officially on the roster, playing the sport.

The players participate in domestic and global events. The establishment of AIPA was vital in structuring and spreading the sport in India.

The formation of PAP was significant in strengthening the structure and development of the game in Pakistan.

PAP organise several qualifying events in Pakistan, providing pickleball players with an opportunity to represent their country at the international level. At the core of their ethos is “sport morality.”

Megha Kapoor is a star Indian pickleball player, with several accolades to her name.

This includes winning the 2017 Women’s Doubles Federation Cup and being the winner of the Women’s Doubles 3.5 category in the 2018 Spanish Open Pickleball Tournament.

Pickleball Pandemic Boom

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BBC reveals that pickleball is becoming one of the fastest-growing sports in the USA.

During the pandemic, according to the Sport and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), the participation growth of pickleball went up by a massive 21.3 % in 2020.

Stu Upson, Chief Executive USA Pickleball says that the craze of the sport is worldwide:

“It’s growing like crazy – in other parts of the world too.”

Fans are growing, particularly as they are developing an addiction to pickleball, with Upson saying that it is not as difficult in comparison to other sports:

“Unlike tennis or golf where you need to take lessons just to become adequate, you can get on a pickleball court and within an hour or so you won’t be terrible.”

Pickleball was initially popular amongst the elderly. However, it has become increasingly popular amongst the youth.

Upson believes pickleball can become an Olympic sport but it will take a bit of time:

“We would love to become an Olympic sport.”

But to be recognized by the International Olympic Committee you need at least 70 countries with (pickleball) federations so we have a way to go.

“I think it’s reasonable that pickleball could become an Olympic sport – but it’s not going to be in the next four or eight years.”

The Olympic dream will be the icing on the cake for professional players and future generations.

The other key factor is that it still has a long way before it catches up with tennis. Having said that pickleball can give competition to racquetball sports globally.

Padel and pickleball have really taken from the 2010s decade and are not considered as elite sports, which makes them easily accessible.

It is quite evident that participation levels will increase further. South Asian and British Asian players, as well as teams, can make big strides in these sports by working on their natural talent.

If anyone can get a hold of a net, a good starting point is to set it up in the backyard. Creatives can then make some make-shift paddles and racquets using some wood lying around.

Faisal has creative experience in the fusion of media and communication and research which increase awareness of global issues in post-conflict, emerging and democratic societies. His life motto is: "persevere, for success is near..."

Images courtesy of Padel Rennais, Riccardo Belardinelli/NSS Sports, mejorset, InPadel Sports, Ziyad Rahim, Julia B/SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS Red Kite Days Pakistan Pickleball Association and Inside the Games