Rafael Nadal — the greatest grand slam champion in history — plays it. So does Novak Djokovic. And two-time Wimbledon champion Sir Andy Murray is so won over he’s invested in a company building the courts.
It’s tennis… but not as we know it. Developed in Mexico in 1969, padel tennis is played on mostly blue-coloured courts about a third of the size of a tennis court, with fortified plastic walls and a low net — and it’s the world’s fastest-growing sport.
The joy is its accessibility to all ages — you don’t have to race about too much — as well as its sociability. Now hotels and resorts around the globe, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean and the U.S., are cottoning on, providing rackets and balls for anyone who fancies giving it a try.
Ace: Tom Chesshyre gave padel tennis a try in the Maldives, where the sport has become a big hit. Above is the private resort island of Kudadoo, which opened its padel court in 2020
Padel is eminently easy to pick up, wherever you give it a try, as we found on a trip to the Maldives, staying at Hurawalhi Island Resort in Lhaviyani Atoll — a place where rain does not very often stop play, whether on court or snorkelling to spot manta rays and the colourful kaleidoscope of fish on the island’s reef.
Amid swaying palms and the sound of waves breaking on the shore, we took to the court. Our opponents? A Greek shipbuilding tycoon and his wife.
You usually play in doubles, meaning you share the job of running after balls, and the rules are similar to those of tennis — except, importantly, you may hit shots off the walls.
The rackets are smaller than tennis rackets and usually made of rubber and foam studded with holes — and no strings. Balls are almost identical to the originals, just at a lower pressure.
‘Amid swaying palms and the sound of waves breaking on the shore, we took to the court,’ Tom says of his game at Hurawalhi Island Resort in Lhaviyani Atoll. Pictured on the right are the resort’s blue padel courts
Tom (left) and Spanish padel coach Marcos Fernandez Bevan (right) on the court. ‘It can be played at all levels,’ Marcos says of padel
In full swing: Rafael Nadal, tennis champion and padel fan
Rallies are easy. I find that the secret is to stick to your spot and let the ball come to you, though admittedly you get less exercise this way.
We were soon getting into the swing of it and having a good tussle with the Greeks. Each with a set to our name, we toasted the game afterwards with cocktails at the slick, over-water bar, naturally.
In the Maldives, where space on the tiny islands is at a premium, padel has become a big hit.
The country’s first court was built on the island of Kuredu in 2018, swiftly followed by courts on nearby Hurawalhi and Kudadoo in 2020, with others planned soon across the 1,192-island archipelago.
Guests staying on the private island of Kudadoo can enjoy a coaching session with padel pro Marcos. Above is a terrace of one of the island’s ‘residences’
‘It can be played at all levels — so it’s open to everyone,’ says Marcos Fernandez Bevan, the Spanish padel coach on both Hurawalhi and Kudadoo. ‘It’s more continuous than tennis. You get longer points as you don’t have to run much.’
On Kudadoo, Marcos offers tips on effective smashes as well as lobs, which are ‘the most important shot as it allows you to get to the net’.
Before becoming a padel pro, Marcos, it turns out, played for Real Madrid football club’s third squad until a knee injury ended his promising career in 2010, aged 19.
‘Cristiano Ronaldo played on the training pitch next to me,’ he says. ‘The best player in history, in my opinion.’
These islands have further football ties.
After the last football World Cup, many international players descended on Hurawalhi with their families, including Liverpool striker Mo Salah, attracted by its excellent watersports, sunset yoga classes, personal trainers, top-class gym, smart villas with private pools and lovely beaches.
But back to padel. It is estimated eight million people now play the game globally, with at least 6,000 regular players in the UK on its 150-plus courts (a number that’s growing rapidly).
Playing it in the Maldives is not essential — but it is highly recommended.