It’s not very often that a new sport threatens to break into the exclusive popularity sphere enjoyed by its more traditional counterparts.
But latest developments have thrust Padel to the forefront of UK tennis, with the world’s fastest growing sport now poised to storm the UK.
Most of you may never have heard of Padel, and with participation rates at just over 3,000 people in the UK last year, it would be easy to understand why.
But with the likes of Rafael Nadal and even Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah now giving it a try, it was never likely to go unnoticed.
In fact, Padel is so popular in Spain, that is has overtaken tennis as the nation’s secondary sport, just behind football.
Quite a feat when you consider it is the homeland of 18-time tennis grand slam winner Nadal.
But the Spaniard is just one of a number of professionals who have played Padel, alongside Andy Murray - who has invested in a company developing the game.
Salah even posted a picture to his Instagram account of him playing the sport whilst on a post-season break from football action.
Those participation figures have now more than doubled in the first half of this year, and following a recent merger with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), Padel’s emergence in Britain is now said to be at “tipping point”.
A sort of cross between tennis and squash, Padel has grown in popularity across Europe and beyond, with the merger with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) - which was confirmed just weeks ago - now set to propel the game into mainstream UK sport.
Head of Padel for the LTA, Tom Murray said: “We’ve gone from 20 courts throughout the country not long ago, now we have 60-65.
“Italy or France as examples, as soon as tennis [federations] took over, they went from 50-60 courts to between 500 and 1000 courts, almost overnight.”
Speaking at a pop up event in London’s Canary Wharf earlier this month, organised by Mr Murray’s own company, We Are Padel , he is positive about what the future holds.
“We’ve got the president of the LTA, Scott Lloyd down here watching Padel in Wimbledon week," he added. "It’s fantastic support."
While I’m stood watching, the players rack up rallies of 60-70 shots, and frequently dash out of the gap in the side of the court to return balls back into play which have scaled the outer boundaries.
This is all part of the game, and these are not amateurs on show - rather a former women’s number one pairing, who still rank among the top 10, as well as the male number five and number 10 top seeds.
All of these players are likely to be involved in the official world tour event which comes to London in October, and will offer the sixth-highest amount of prize money available to professional competitors.
Whilst Mr Murray believes Padel can take off on a grand scale, he admits the success of these events are paramount to how far the sport can go.
“Key events, major events, if we’re comparing it to tennis, it’s going to be ideal for the UK market,” he added.
“Promoting an unknown sport, you need big events to showcase it and say ‘right, there is a professional level in this sport, it does exist, and hopefully that will encourage grassroots.”
Indeed the buzz around Padel has become so big that the LTA’s involvement will now offer interest free loans of up to £250k to member clubs to incorporate Padel into their facilities.
But what is Padel? Here’s all you need to know...
What is Padel?
Padel is a four-player sport played in doubles on a smaller version of a tennis court, surrounding by glass walls.
The rules and scoring are similar to tennis, except the ball can be played off the walls around the edges, providing it only bounces once on the defending teams side and makes its way back over the net.
It is played with a firmer bat - without strings and a shorter handle to encourage beginners to pick up the sport quickly.
What is it played on?
The courts are specifically designed for Padel.
They are smaller than tennis courts, and you can fit three Padel courts into just one tennis court.
Due to the outer barriers, a newly-made Padel court can cost up to £20-25k.
However Mr Murray points to the fact that the courts are cheaper, and can also be picked up and moved, or even sold on, rather than fixed to one spot like a tennis court.
Where can I watch it?
The London Padel Masters 2019 comes to the UK capital later this year and will run from October 14-20.
The tournament will be held at the London Padel Center in Fulham's Bishops Park.
It can host up to 2,000 people across two courts, and tickets are still available online from seetickets.com .