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Make room, tennis, pickleball and squash. Here comes Padel.

Padel players during a game at Padel Haus in New York on March 3, 2024.
Padel players during a game at Padel Haus in New York on March 3, 2024. The sport is played with a racket on a court with a net, but watch out for those bouncing shots from the back wall. Reporters take a look at the padel scene in New York City.

NEW YORK — I first learned about padel last summer, when my partner sent me a photo from a small court during a visit to Germany.

What is that? I wondered.

“Padel. A childish version of tennis,” he texted, anticipating my question.

As an enthusiastic tennis player, I was not very interested.

A few months later, while biking in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, I noticed a large building with a sign that read “Padel Haus,” which billed itself as the first padel club in New York City. This sport wanted my attention, so I invited Victor Mather, a veteran sports reporter, to join me for a lesson.

Victor was willing to try. “I am a reasonably fit guy,” he said. But he was turning 60, he said, and added: “My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I haven’t played tennis since prep school, and I have never played squash or racquetball.”

I was just happy to be on a court with a racket in hand because it isn’t easy to book a tennis court in the city.

Here’s what we learned.

First, what is padel?
At first glance, it looks like tennis.

The sport — a blend of squash and tennis — can be played indoors or outdoors. It is always played on turf, which is softer on the knees than the paved hard courts associated with tennis and outdoor pickleball. The padel racket, usually made of foam and carbon fiber or fiberglass, is shorter than a tennis racket and has holes instead of strings. The ball is smaller and has less air pressure.

The scoring is like tennis. There are glass walls at the back and sides of the court. The walls are in play, setting up ricochet shots that bring the squashiness into padel.

The serves are hit from below the waist. Players are encouraged to rush the net after serving. Padel is played in doubles and teams can move as a unit rather than staggered.

Santiago Gomez, Padel Haus’ founder, grew up playing in Mexico, where the sport was created in the late 1960s. He spent much of the COVID-19 pandemic in Acapulco and decided to start his business when he returned to New York City, opening a club in 2022.

The sport is growing in popularity.
Elmo Coleman, 27, learned padel in Venice during the pandemic. But he dropped the sport when he moved to New York City for lack of places to play. He played tennis, begrudgingly. Now, he plays padel three times a week in Dumbo.

The sport has been growing in popularity in places such as South Florida, Texas, Southern California and New York, according to the United States Padel Association.

There were 180 courts across the United States in 2022, compared with fewer than 20 in 2016, according to a Global Padel report from Playtomic, a community of players that prepared the analysis with the consulting firm Monitor Deloitte. The USPA estimates that there are 50,000 players and 400 courts now, not including private ones.

The costs to book a court can vary widely.
The sport can be costly, at least in New York. At Padel Haus, renting a court costs $65 an hour at peak weekend times, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Members pay $37.50 per hour; membership at one location is $140 a month. The lower-cost times are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays: $25 for members and $40 for nonmembers. The hourly fees do not include racket rentals or balls. (The New York Times paid $195 for our private, one-hour lesson.)

“I feel like the only thing preventing all of us from playing more is the price,” said Will Elkins, 26, who works in finance.

There is also a pop-up padel site in Manhattan, which is not open year-round. The cost can vary outside of New York for court access, from free play to $40 to hundreds per session.

Now, it’s time to play.
For our lesson, Victor and I walked onto the artificial turf and marveled at the high ceilings.

We grabbed our rackets and stood across the net from our coach, who walked us through how to hold and swing the racket. The grip is the same one used for serving and volleying in tennis.

We alternated hitting forehands and backhands. Next, we tried to get the timing down as the coach hit balls deep into the court. We let them bounce against the wall before trying to send them over the net. That was the hardest part.

“After whacking the first couple of balls over the net successfully, I felt a surge of confidence,” Victor said later. But that “ended abruptly when I chased a lob and slammed directly into something unexpected and unyielding. Oh, that’s right. Padel courts have glass walls.”

He said that it was hard at times to pick up the ball, especially against the lights, and that “the hourlong session was a real workout.” It required rushing the net only to backpedal “again and again,” which may be hard for less-fit players.

As for me, I will definitely play again. I’ve already started asking my friends if they’ve heard of the sport. When they ask what it is, I don’t tell them it’s a childish form of tennis. I tell them it’s a good alternative when you can’t book a tennis court.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2024 The New York Times

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