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Move over, tennis: Padel is now Europe’s favourite sporting pastime


A game which has gradually grown in popularity over previous decades suddenly seems to be taking the continent by storm. Everyone seems to be playing it, and if they’re not playing it they’re talking about it. And chances are, a court has popped up in your neighbourhood.

The game in question is padel, a kind of simplified hybrid between tennis and squash that was invented in Mexico back in 1969. The game involves the same basic rules as tennis, with two to four players opposing one another on a court divided by a net, taking it in turns to hit a bouncing ball over to the other side until one of them fails to connect or plays the ball out.

It shares the same scoring system, too, which each player or side aiming to win more points, games and sets than their opponent.

But there are several elements which make padel different, easier, and therefore more fun to play for those uninitiated in other racket sports.

Why padel is easier to play

Firstly, most of the outer perimeters of a padel court are part of the playing surface. If the ball touches the court’s perspex, or plexiglass wall, after bouncing once on the same side, it remains in play. Like squash, players can even choose to hit the ball against their own side’s wall on the full, giving them additional means of getting it back to their opponent’s side.

This feature generally results in the ball staying alive and in play for longer, unless you get your angles completely wrong or manage to whack it of the park altogether (it happens!).

Secondly, padel rackets aren’t stringed like rackets for other sports. They’re made of solid carbon fiber with air holes hollowed out of their centres. This design makes them extra springy, while keeping them lightweight and easy to swing. And finally, padel balls tend to be a little bouncier than the average tennis ball, giving players more time to hit them after they’ve bounced.

These key differences mean that padel doesn’t require nearly the same levels of speed, strength, stamina and endurance as other racket sports for a player to hold their own in a game.

It’s mostly a case of keeping your eye on the ball and swinging through it. Hence the explosion of the game’s popularity with fun-lovers and higher-level competitors alike.

Padel gives you and your friends the freedom to hit back-and-forth without worrying too much about being in peak physical condition, getting the weekly exercise you need while having a blast. At the same time, if you want to take it more seriously, you can.

As well as renting a court, you can join your local padel club. On a larger scale, there are national and international competitions, and the sport was included at the 2023 European Games.

The numbers game

On the other side of things, padel is fast overtaking tennis as a profitable area of investment for local sports centers. Three padel courts can fit in the same space required for one tennis court, meaning centers can rent out their courts to three times as many groups or pairs at the same time. We’re likely to see more and more indoor and outdoor tennis courts replaced by their padel counterparts over the coming years.

European countries in particular have fallen in love with the pastime. According to, more than 6,000 padel courts were built on the continent in 2022 alone. At the time, Europe accounted for 31,000 of the world’s 40,000 padel courts. The International Padel Federation’s latest report suggests that number has increased to 63,000 in just two years. By 2026, there are expected to be 85,000 padel courts globally.

Nine of the Top 15 padel-playing countries are in Europe: Spain, Italy, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal and Finland. Spain and Italy are way out in front, boasting more padel courts than the rest of the Top 10 combined.

From my experience in Portugal, I can tell you that the padel craze is spreading fast here, too. And across all nationalities, from Ukrainians to Egyptians, and Brits to South Africans.

So, if you’re looking for a game that counts as exercise without completely exhausting you, and counts as a sport while emphasising enjoyment over competition, why not check out your local padel court?

It could be the perfect game, set and match for you.


Read more about expat sports here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Alex here.

Alex Beaton

Alex Beaton is a writer from London, UK. His published works include a guide to starting a business in Warsaw, a fictionalised account of his time living in Egypt, and a 2013 report of the political situation in Bulgaria. He has also written extensively about his travels in France, Portugal, Italy and Malta.

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