Thursday, July 20, 2006

Padel (Paddle) Should Be the Next Big Sport

I have played a lot of paddle and racquet sports in my life. I was a passable racquetball player and a horrible tennis player. I could always get a really good workout playing racquetball, but could never keep the ball alive long enough in tennis. Then you end up chasing the ball or having to go get it in the street. I did not have the patience for the learning curve. Just fuhgeddaboudit.

But tennis is nice, because it is outside.

In 1990 I moved to Argentina with my job. The country was in the grips of a craze for a sport called paddle (pronounced like pah del).

I fell in love with the game. It is a lot like tennis, scoring is the same, court kind of looks the same. It is normally played outside. The big difference is the walls. The court is surrounded by walls and fences--the walls are the boundary lines and they are live. Passing shots aren't--you get a second chance. You don't have to chase those passed balls. If the ball hits off the end of your racquet it doesn't end up three courts over. Serving is low, rather than high, so no more shoulder problems, and because it's low and slower, the service returner has a really good shot at getting the ball into play.

The learning curve is much lower and even a novice player can get a decent workout the first time he plays. The sport is big in South America, Mexico, and Spain. The court is smaller than a tennis court (its 33X66 feet), and you don't need much room around it--just a place to get in and out of the court.

What's the problem here then? Well it's the usual chicken and egg thing. It is hard to find a court, equipment is not easy to find, and good luck finding a partner or opponent.
Following is a descripion of the game that highlights some of the differences between paddle and tennis.

Paddle
A Brief Description

Paddle is a tennis-like game played with a solid paddle, on a slightly smaller court with walls and fences around it. In Argentina, paddle is normally played as a doubles game. Scoring is the same as in tennis. The lines painted on the court are in the same pattern as a tennis singles court, and they mean the same thing.

The main differences between tennis and paddle have to do with the walls. In the back, and extending partway down the side is a concrete or brick wall 4 meters high. On the sides, in the center part of the court is a chain link fence. It is normally either 1.5 or 4 meters high. Essentially, the fences and walls can be thought of as a vertical extension of the back and side lines. If the ball hits a wall or fence on the fly, it’s out (there is an exception to this though, Exception No. 1). If it hits after one bounce it’s still alive (there’s an exception to this too, Exception No. 2).

Exception No. 1 is as follows. I said that the walls and fences are like a vertical extension of the lines. The exception is that you can hit the ball against your own back or side wall on the fly (not the fence). This allows a player to smash the ball into his own back wall as a last resort when he can’t get back fast enough to make a “normal” return.

To put the ball into play, the server bounces the ball, and hits it to the service court diagonally opposite from him. The ball must be below his beltline when it’s hit. It must bounce in the opposite service court after crossing the net, and it can’t hit the wire fence even after bouncing (this is exception No. 2). Rules for double faults, etc., are basically the same as in tennis. There is one trick to watch for; what would otherwise be a let serve, isn’t, if it hits the wire fence before bouncing for the second time.

The person returning the serve must let the ball bounce once before hitting it.

Miscellaneous:

• You don’t have to use the tether on the paddle. Therefore, you can switch hands if you want.

• If a legal shot, after bouncing on the opposite court, leaves the area of play, the point goes to the team that hit it.

• As in tennis, a “Murphy,” i.e. hitting the opposing player with the ball, goes to the team that hit the ball.

• You can normally tell whether a ball hit the floor or the back wall first by its spin. If the ball rebounds strongly towards the net, it was long. If it kind of dies, it was good. If the ball isn’t spinning, it hit at the intersection of the walls and was therefore good. Bounces at the side walls can often be determined similarly.