How Sheikh Hamdan helped padel become one of the UAE's most popular sports

The Dubai royal is a big fan of the game that has become all the rage of late

By Leslie Wilson Jr

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Published: Mon 18 Jul 2022, 9:43 PM

Last updated: Mon 18 Jul 2022, 10:47 PM

For scores of UAE residents, the fitness-loving Crown Prince of Dubai has been a great inspiration in motivating them to pursue various sports. Karim is one such person. His first introduction to the world of padel was through photos and videos of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum playing the sport (as seen above).

As a youngster, Karim often dreamt of being a tennis player. However, every time he prepared to give it a shot, something would go wrong — which led to him sticking to what he did on most weekends: meet up with friends at the local club for a game of squash or table tennis.

Fast forward several years and Karim, now approaching the age of 50, couldn't help being curious about the sport that was becoming all the rage in Dubai — thanks in no small part to Sheikh Hamdan, who is a big fan of the game and a regular player at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex.

The rest, as they say, is history as the Dubai resident soon found himself caught up in the padel daydream, spending many happy moments on the 20x10 courts that transported him back in time to when he imagined a future as a tennis player.

Never did it occur to him that he would one day be playing and mastering a game that had a lot of similarities to the original sport he so desired to play.

How padel is spreading its wings in the UAE

Padel made its debut in the UAE in 2013, when Sheikh Hamdan ordered two courts to be erected at his private sports and training facility, NAS Sports Complex.

That was just the beginning. Soon, under his patronage, the sport grew wings and earned instant recognition from members of the country's tennis fraternity.

In June 2019, the UAE Sports Ministry issued a decree officially recognising it as a sport with the full backing of the government.

Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum became the first President of the newly-formed UAE Padel Association and a six-member Board of Directors was constituted.

Today, the UAE boasts over 400 courts with numbers growing by the day. What's more, over 5,000 players between the ages of 12 to 50 are actively involved in the sport.

Where did padel originate and why is it so popular?

Padel, which is loosely described as a cross between tennis and squash with a dash of ping-pong, originated in Acapulco, Mexico.

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Played by an estimated eight million players in over 73 countries, it is considered to be the fastest-growing sport in the world and on the verge of staking a strong claim to become an Olympic discipline.

The interesting thing about padel is that it is typically played as a doubles game which takes place on a much smaller tennis court.

Although the scoring is the same as in tennis and the balls are similar, the bats are solid and do not have string. In padel, you can also hit the ball off the walls much like in squash.

A game for the young and old

Eisa Al Marzooqi, a Board Member of the UAE Padel Tennis Association, says the best thing about the sport is that it can be learned quickly and played by people of all ages or gender.

“The sport has grown drastically in the UAE compared to other sports it is the second most played sport in the country (after football),” he testifies. “You can find a padel court in almost every corner and hundreds more are coming up.

“It’s a ‘quick-to-learn’ game for males and females; even children and elders can play padel. It helps individuals to socialise and get out of their comfort zones as no other sport does. It’s a very social sport and is a lot of fun,” adds Al Marzooqi, himself a padel convert.

“Irrespective of playing ability or gender, it’s a game that gets you to move around a lot but does not necessarily tire you out. I’ve even seen players that have never played a racquet sport pick up the game very quickly. It’s that simple.”

Padel has become the new golf

Diego Almeida, who is the manager at ISD Padel, one of the popular clubs in the UAE, says the game is easy to learn and can be a lot of fun.

“The best thing about padel is that you don’t get frustrated unlike in many other racquet sports,” the Brazilian says. “In tennis, if you play against someone who has never played the game, it can be boring. But in padel, it's different because everything about the way the game is designed is to make it easier for players, new or old.

“I’m not saying that it does not get intense; it can when played at a higher level. It’s a good workout,” added Diego.

Sport of heroes

The sky’s the limit for this fascinating sport with a host of celebrities like Novak Djokovic (pictured below), Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, Maria Sharapova, Gerald Pique, and Iker Casillas all die-hard padel fans.

Former football legend David Beckham has also been bitten by the padel bug and played it when based in Miami. Other ex-players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Peter Crouch regularly play the sport. There was also news that Brazilian star Neymar recently installed not one, but two padel courts at his home.

More and more celebrities and ex-sportsmen are taking up padel, which speaks volumes for its appeal and has aided its promotion and awareness on a global scale.

Padel continues to build a bright future

As we get older, it becomes much harder to keep playing the sports that were always close to our hearts.

However, padel — like golf — is a game that’s easy to play, affordable, accessible, and also helps you stay healthy. Even people who haven't been active for a while have found a new lease of life playing padel.

It’s a sport that has the potential to take the world by storm and perhaps even become the biggest recreational game ever.

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