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8 January 2024 · Mazda Stories

What The Hell Is Padel?

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You’re probably aware of hybrid beasts - like Ligers and Tigons (lions and tigers bred together), Zorses (zebra horses) or the Wholphin (a killer whale and a dolphin) - awkwardly roaming the world, but it’s quite likely you don’t know about the world’s largest hybrid sport - padel.

What the hell is padel, you ask? Well, it’s a clever, fast-paced and hugely enjoyable hybrid of tennis and squash, played by more than 25 million people in 90 countries, and yes, that includes Australia, where one of our top-ranked professional players, Tim Brown, 33, is actually a hybrid sportsman; his mother played tennis and his dad is a squash player.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Brown has been thinking very seriously about buying a hybrid car, like the hugely clever new Mazda CX-60 PHEV, and jumped at the chance to try one out for a week as a way of ferrying him to his various padel practices, before he jumps on a plane to his next international tournament. A personal trainer by trade, he’s taken a year off to see how far he can go on the circuit and had just returned from playing in the US, Turkey and Bali.

Padel (pronounced “pad-L”) is rather larger in some countries than others, of course, like Spain, where it is the second biggest sport after football, with more than 6 million players and 20,000 courts (each one has glassed-in ends, like a squash court, a net in the middle and is about a third the size of a tennis court). Last year, more padel balls were sold in Spain than tennis ones (honestly, it’s a bit hard to tell the difference between the two just by looking).

“Much like a plug-in hybrid car is a hybrid of an EV and a petrol car,padel is a hybrid of tennis and squash, except it’s easier, more fun and more social,” as Brown neatly explains it.

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The “social” part is because padel is a doubles game, you need a partner to play, and to get very good at it you have to develop a real understanding between the two of you.

While it is remarkably easy to pick up the game of padel - Brown points out that the small size of the racket helps, giving you more control - there is a lot to learn, like the skill of taking the ball off the back wall after it has bounced, or the ability to hit a “boast”, where you smash the ball off the glass and, somehow, over the net.

Without doubt the wildest part of the sport, as a spectator, is that players are also allowed to run out of the court to chase a ball, if it flies out, and then hit it back in. This takes skill, speed and a lot of energy, but it’s amazing to watch.

Seeing padel in action was what initially brought Tim Brown to the sport.

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“I’ve been playing for about eight years now and it all started when I just walked past a court one day and thought, ‘what is that?’” he recalls. “I had a tennis background, but once I got into padel, I just loved it, then I started playing for the national team, and I haven’t looked back.”

On the day we joined Brown and his gleaming red Mazda CX-60 at a Sydney padel court, we also met a couple of professional tennis coaches, who have played that more famous game their whole lives, but now confess that they only play tennis for work these days, because they so prefer padel.

Similarly, after spending time in a luxurious Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle like the CX-60, Brown says he’s convinced that a hybrid is the way forward.

“Everything about this car is just so smooth and so sophisticated, from the safety systems to the transition between engine and electric, it all just feels so easy,” he reports.

“After driving this, my next car will definitely be a hybrid. It’s only once you spend some time with one that you really appreciate how clever, and economical, the technology is. I found I could drive around town in EV mode, all the time, and then, if I needed to go further, the car would just seamlessly switch to the petrol engine.

“Overall, in such a big car, I just couldn’t believe how little fuel it used. It really is the best of both worlds.”

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Padel, arguably the world’s first hybrid sport, goes back a bit further than PHEV technology, having been invented in Mexico in 1969 by a man called Enrique Corcuera. While the sport has really taken off in Spanish-speaking countries, it’s now also spreading fast elsewhere. Brown says he expects the number of padel clubs in Australia to double in 2024, as interest picks up.

“The great thing is that once people try it, they just love it straight away, because it is so much easier to pick up and, aerobically, it’s a bit easier than tennis, at least at the social level, but when you get to the higher levels it really is a dynamic sport,” Brown explains.

“The reason I’m having a crack at going professional, at 33, is that some of the best players in the world are in their mid-40s, so I’ve still got time. Going full time was a big gamble, and I’m glad it’s worked out, but the travel is exhausting, I can see why professional tennis players complain about it.

“In tennis, you would never try to go pro at 33, it would be too late, but in tennis the ball passes you by, in milliseconds, and it’s gone, but in padel, you have the walls, so if you can get to the level where your anticipation is really good, it saves you; you still have time to get into the right position, and keep the point alive.

“It’s a very tactical game.”

What we can confirm, after having a hit with an encouraging professional like Tim Brown, is that padel really is easy to pick up, and huge fun to play, straight away. It’s a lot like squash, and tennis, but somehow the hybridisation of the two is better than the original games.

Sometimes a hybrid really is the best answer.