Padel is probably the best sport you’ve never tried. It combines elements of tennis and squash to create a fast-paced but accessible sport that beginners can enjoy within minutes of picking up a racket.
For padel tips that will help you get into the sport, we spoke to Bernadino Sánchez-Alcaraz, professor of racket sports at the Faculty of Sports Sciences at the University of Murcia, through Game4Padel, a padel court operator in the UK.
What is padel?
Padel is a racket sport played in a court that is 20 by 10 meters. That court is divided by the net, so each team of two has a side of 10 square meters. The court is surrounded by glass walls. Once the ball bounces on the floor, it can hit the glass to continue the point. That is one of the main characteristics of padel, because it allows you to play longer points using the glass.
How many players do you need?
You can play singles, and have lessons as singles, but the regulations say that padel is two against two, so all the tournaments are doubles tournaments. And it's more social that way—you meet more people because you always need another three people to play.
Do you need a special padel ball?
The ball is very similar to a tennis ball. The size and weight of the ball is almost the same. The main difference between padel and tennis balls is that a padel ball has less pressure than a tennis ball. So that means that when the ball bounces, it bounces a little bit lower.
You can play with tennis balls. Sometimes beginners play with tennis balls, and that’s OK. But if more advanced players play with a tennis ball, because the ball has more pressure and bounces higher, it’s easier to hit the ball out of the court. When you smash it, the ball bounces more and goes over the glass more easily than with a padel ball.
Also, because the bounce is a little bit lower and slower with a padel ball, it gives you more chance to play longer points because you have more time for positioning.
What is the scoring system?
The scoring is the same as tennis. You have to win two sets to win the match, to win one set you need to win six games and to win one game, you have to win four points, so 15, 30, 40.
The only scoring difference that is becoming popular is that there are no advantage points. When you go to 40-all [deuce] you play a “golden” point or deciding point. It's not compulsory but most of the tournaments are played without advantage points.
How do you serve?
You serve underarm, which helps to put the ball into play quickly and easily. You serve from the right first, then the next point from the left. You have to bounce the ball first on the floor and then serve underarm. That means it is like a forehand and it's very easy to put the ball in. The serve is not a determiner: You don't have aces in padel, you don’t have double faults—you just put the ball in and you play.
Do you need to be very fit to start?
One reason people love padel is because the court is small, so you don’t need to run big distances to hit the ball. In a sport like tennis you need to run more. The court on your side is 10 by 10 meters, but you play with your partner so you each cover an area 10 meters long by five meters wide. With two or three steps you can hit the ball, and you can also let the ball hit the glass and then wait for the ball again. You don’t need to run crazy amounts, because if you’re positioning yourself well, just with three steps you can hit the ball.
At the same time you run a lot because the point is longer. The average of the point is around 15 seconds while in tennis it is around seven, eight seconds. Then the rest time is also lower than tennis. You have 20 seconds between serves, the regulation says, but normally [after] six or seven seconds you put the ball into play again.
You don’t need to be very fit or have very good technique to start playing, but you need to be fit to avoid injuries. Because the points are long you hit a lot of balls. Lots of smashes, overhead shots. So if you are not fit or you have issues with your shoulder you can have injuries. It is also explosive. If [your opponent] does a drop shot or a smash, you have to sprint to the ball.
If you have played tennis or squash, will that help when starting padel?
If you come from tennis, you have an advantage because the technique in padel is very similar to tennis, especially the swing. The forehand, backhand and volleys are very similar. It’s a shorter swing but exactly the same movement, from low to high with the racket flat.
However, people that come from tennis struggle with the glass. They play very strongly and they don’t leave any balls to the glass, and they lose control. If you come from tennis you don’t need to focus that much on technique in the beginning because you know how to hit the ball, but you have to work more on tactics. For example, leave this ball to hit the glass so you have more time to get into position, and then with this ball don’t hit it so hard because if you hit it too hard then the ball comes back from the glass and is easier for the opponent.
It’s different for people who come from squash. They are good at using the glass, because it’s the same in squash. They have good timing with the glass, good positioning tactically, they can read the trajectory of the ball with the glass. But the swing is really different: you use your wrist a lot in squash. That means that you have to work more on the technique so you’re not using your wrist. Especially on the forehand and backhand. You have to use your arm more for those movements. We focus a little bit more on the technique when you come from squash, but it’s not about forgetting your squash technique, it’s about adapting it a little bit.
To find a UK padel court or partner visit game4padel.com.
Bernadino Sánchez-Alcaraz is professor of racket sports at the Faculty of Sports Sciences at the University of Murcia. He is also a coach, a researcher of padel, and the founder of PadelMBA, a Spanish coaching platform for padel.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.