The neighbor, who has been playing for months, invites you to “some doubles on Sunday.” A mother from school goes to pick up the girl with a paletero hanging on her shoulder. In the clubs everything disappears to make room for new tracks. In schools, the rules, the technique, the tricks are explained to hundreds of boys and girls. Have we returned to the 60s and the tennis boom? Have we returned to the 2000s and the explosion of paddle tennis? No, we are in 2023 and a new fashion arrives in Spain: pickleball. The echoes that come from the United States, where the sport was invented decades ago, are loud: three professional circuits with up to 10 million prizes; tournaments in clubs like Indian Wells with investors like LeBron James o Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle; between 40 and 50 million practitioners and, among other things, an agreement with ESPN to broadcast matches.
“There they have gone from two million practitioners to almost 50 in just five or six years,” he explains. Marc Declercq, vice president of the Spanish Pickleball Association, which has just joined the Spanish Tennis Federation (RFET). The organization was created in 2012 thanks to Michael Hess, a former Adidas manager who lived between Barcelona and Madrid and wanted to import the discipline he practiced in his country, but did not receive a real boost until two years ago. “Before the pandemic we played a few hundred, but now we estimate that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 players in Spain. The evolution has been enormous in a very short time. We already have more than 100 clubs and fixed courts in many parts of Madrid, Catalonia , Andalusia… In Gallur, for example, 14 fixed courts have just been inaugurated, in the City of Racket there will be four more…”, comments Declerq.
Ask. But… What is pickleball?
Answer. It is a racket sport with two advantages. The first, that you learn very quickly. The racket weighs very little and the ball has holes so it cannot run and there are many exchanges. This means that anyone can start in five minutes without needing to know how to play. And the second advantage is that it is very accessible. The court is small, the size of a badminton court with doubles, 13 by six meters, and does not need walls. So it can be mounted anywhere, it doesn’t have to be fixed. In some parks in the United States, tournaments have been organized with 60 or 70 courts set up just for that day. They have also set up many in schools, universities or nursing homes.
“It’s like playing with paddles on the beach. The shots are very simple and that’s why it attracts so much. It’s very fast, it requires reflexes,” he explains. Maria Fernandez22 years old, fifth in the ranking and current European champion in doubles along with Sabrina Mendez, the other reference in Spain. “I started playing tennis when I was little and I stopped at the age of 15 when I was already competing at a high level because of the pressure. I ended up very badly, very discouraged. At the age of 20, that is, two years ago, I started playing again fun and my coach recommended that I try pickleball. Since then I train every day, I love it,” recalls Fernández, from Malaga, who is preparing to play the first Mediterranean Open to be organized by the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca next December and the Copa de European masters from Austria. The trips are run by Zcebra, one of the two Spanish companies specialized in pickleball, and important prizes are beginning to be distributed.