In this era of technology, devices, instant gratification and competing sports the battle for eyes on the game and participants has never been greater.
Tennis has for many years been voted one of, if not the highest rated game in terms of participants worldwide but recently a new force in the world of racquet sports has emerged in the form of Padel.
The question many in the tennis industry are grappling with is: can the two sports co-exist and become perfect partners or should Padel be seen as a bitter rival who must be stopped at all costs.
Interestingly Padel has become the second biggest sport in Spain. With an estimated 4 million players it is currently second only to football in terms of popularity. This is a concern for tennis when you consider the production line of tennis champions, they have produced including multiple grand slam champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, all time great Rafael Nadal and current world number 1, Carlos Alcaraz.
So, why is Padel so popular and should tennis be concerned. We have spoken with many industry experts from both sides who tend to view things from their sports perspective.
One person who can give an insight into both games having played and coached both at a professional level is Marious Zelba. Marious is a former player on the ATP tour and has recently represented Australia at the World Cup qualifying event for Padel and is currently living in Spain. I recently sat down with Marious for The First Serve to gain a true understanding of Padel, the comparisons between tennis and Padel and if tennis should be worried.
First Serve (FS): Hi Marious, can you give our readers a little insight into your tennis background. How did you come to play tennis?
Marious Zelba (MB): My grandma first took me to a tennis court in Vladivostok, Russia when I was 6 years old. I then started playing more regularly when I moved to Sydney, firstly Dee Why then Roseberry and Kingsford.
FS: How was your progression from there?
MZ: I started playing tournaments from the age of 13. I had some success and from there I started travelling overseas playing ITF junior events where I reached a ranking of 120 before moving onto futures events with the goal of playing professionally.
FS: How was life on the ATP tour?
MZ: I was playing lots of futures events. I reached a ranking of 1100 on the ATP tour. To supplement my earnings, I played club tennis in Germany as well which was highly competitive but great fun as well with the crowds providing a great atmosphere.
FS: Why the move to Padel?
MZ: I stopped playing professionally in 2015 due to a shoulder injury. A Padel club opened near where I lived, and I instantly loved the game. I wanted to improve and learn more about the game.
FS: How did you find the transition from tennis?
MZ: I think the transition was relatively smooth as tennis players have the co ordination and net game to succeed in Padel.
FS: How was the tournament scene?
MZ: In my first year my partner and I worked hard on our game, winning 6 out of 6 finals and becoming the number 1 ranked pair in Australia.
FS: So, why the move to Spain?
MZ: I met my girlfriend through Padel in Sydney. She is from Spain so, we decided to move there.
FS: How has life been in Spain? Challenges? How’s the tennis and Padel scene?
MZ: There have been some challenges. The main ones being learning a new language and starting my coaching business from scratch.
FS: Why is Padel so popular in Spain?
MZ: It is easy to pick up. It is simple, fun, and very social. The skills from tennis are easily transferrable. I live in a tourist town and have seen many people without a tennis background opt for a Padel lesson over tennis.
FS: Can the two sports co-exist?
MZ: I think the two sports can co-exist and provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to pick up a racquet and we should encourage that no matter which racquet they choose.
FS: You recently participated in world championship qualifiers. How was that?
MZ: It was an incredible experience. Australia was one of six countries competing for one spot in the world championships. The atmosphere was unbelievable, and the level was extremely high. I have no doubt it will become an Olympic sport sooner rather than later.
FS: If you had to choose: which sport do you prefer?
MZ: I love playing Padel, but my passion is tennis. I love coaching players who want to reach their potential and play at a high level.
FS: Should Australian tennis be worried about the future?
MZ: I feel Padel is a long way behind in Australia and will continue to get bigger and better. Although I don’t feel tennis is in danger as such, it needs to be careful that it continues to foster junior development, makes the game fun and appealing for all ages and gives the serious players a pathway in order to feel they can succeed.
After speaking with experts and key stakeholders in both sports the consensus is that both are good, fun sports who should be working together to stave off other sports rather than seeing each other as fierce rivals. Having players on a court with a racquet in the hand of a participant will ultimately benefit both sports. If treated with respect and care the two could become the perfect doubles combination.