When we arrived, we discovered that our villa had a padel court. Few of us had seen one before and no one knew the rules, so we invented them as logically as we could and got on with it. Within a couple of sets we were hooked. Some people started to get up early to practise; others began watching matches on YouTube. Specialist websites were consulted to establish the basics, such as how many underarm serves you get (the answer is two) and whether the ball is out if it hits the back wall without bouncing first in the court. (Absolutely).
What a game! It’s a cross between real tennis, regular tennis, squash and ping pong. The racquets are solid and stringless and you can play it to a high standard well into your dotage because it’s all about strategy and guile rather than muscle and smashing the ball as hard as you can.
Indeed, smash it and the chances are that the ball will bounce off the back or side walls in such a way that your opponent will have all the time in the world to place it just where he wants.
Among the Spanish, padel (known as paddle tennis in North America) is more popular than tennis, despite their adulation of Rafa Nadal. Next year its international federation intends to present a strong case for its inclusion as an Olympic sport. Certainly, the rallies are Olympian, with the pros trading 60-80 shots back and forth over the net, and there’s none of this bouncing the ball for ages before a serve. We don’t have many pros yet in this country. In fact, there are just three, led by our number one player Richard Brooks, 36, who recently signed a sponsorship deal with Adidas.
‘Oh, so it’s a game for older folk,’ is the refrain I hear pinging my way. Well, no, actually. The British female number one is Tia Norton and she’s just 14. The trouble is there are still only 44 courts in Britain. The word is spreading, though. The Harbour Club in London has ditched one of its tennis courts in favour of three padel ones, and over at the posh Hurlingham Club a notice has gone up telling members that it intends to build more courts as a priority because it’s a ‘sport for our times’.
And it is a sport for our times: more aerobic than normal tennis but far easier on the joints; wonderfully social because you only play doubles; serving is dead easy and courts are nothing like as expensive as those for tennis — one can fit neatly into a corner of a modest garden.
In the 19th century, a version of padel was played on British cruise ships, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that a Mexican called Enrique Corcuera invented the game as we know it. Corcuera was friends with Alfonso de Hohenlohe, who was persuaded to build two courts at his famous Marbella Club, and that’s how it got started in Spain.
I’ve just had my first lesson with Britain’s number four player, Tom Murray, who is also executive director of British Padel Association. He said my prospects were ‘promising’, and, with the sport’s popularity growing, I’m pleased to be ahead of the game for a change.