The world’s fastest growing sport comes to Oxford. A cross between tennis and squash, played with souped-up beach bats on a small court enclosed in glass and mesh, padel is taking the world by storm, with converts including Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool FC have a court in their training ground), Serena Williams, Leo Messi and even Emmanuel Macron.
Padel was invented in 1969, after Mexican businessman Enrique Corcuera decided to modify the squash court at his holiday home, and took root in Spain during the 70s, rising to become the second biggest participation sport there after football. The sport has gone on to boom across Europe and the Middle East in recent years as local entrepreneurs (including Zinedine Zidane in France and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Sweden) and tennis federations have invested in infrastructure.
So why has padel become so popular? First and foremost, it’s a lot of fun. It’s much easier to learn than tennis, with beginners able to enjoy themselves on court within 30 minutes of getting started, and the rollercoaster rallies that come after a few sessions getting people hooked.
While fastpaced, the small court and tactical nature of the game means it appeals to young and old, male and female alike – rewarding strategy and skill rather than pace and brute strength. Finally, it’s really social: it’s always played in doubles, is open to all and a provides a great opportunity to meet new people or to spend time with your friends.
The UK has lagged its European counterparts when it comes to padel (for example Sweden has over 3,000 courts compared to the UK’s 250) but, with support from the Lawn Tennis Association, it is aggressively playing catch up, with new venues opening up everywhere from Cornwall to MVP Padel Ltd 2 Canary Wharf.
Unlike tennis, where the club membership model prevails, most padel venues are pay and play, enabling anybody to book a court, turn up and play. Padel has arrived in Oxford courtesy of MVP Padel. MVP Padel was founded in 2021 by friends and accidental entrepreneurs Vanessa Benedict and Melinda Malouli: a socially distanced walk in the park involving Vanessa (a retailer by background and recent padel convert) complaining to Melinda (a former WTA-ranked tennis player) about the lack of places to play, resulting in a company – MVP encapsulates their names, and also ‘Most Valuable Player’ – a website and a push to find the ideal location for a new padel venue.
That ideal location was found when the pair met with John Szulc, the president of Oxford Sports Tennis Club in North Hinksey Village (about 10 minutes south-west of the city-centre), who was looking to add a complementary activity to the location and to make better use of four unloved mini-tennis courts. After a relatively smooth contracting – MVP has a lease agreement with the club – and planning process, and a slightly bumpier build process, the three-court venue opened in December. Despite the winter launch, the courts have rapidly filled up with a regular player base comprising everyone from experienced Spanish expats to those that had never picked up a racquet of any sort before.
The venue is pay and play with court prices ranging from £15-30 per hour (£3.75 to £7.50 per player) and – supported by passionate coaches Manuel and Miguel – offers a range of group coaching, social activities, leagues, tournaments, events and private tuition. MVP has partnered with leading racquets brand Babolat and Decathlon Oxford (5 minutes’ drive from the venue) to offer equipment free-of-charge with court hire and discounts of up to 15% to those that sign up for MVP membership.
To get on court you’ll need to register with MATCHi, MVP’s booking platform, and then simply go to the dedicated MVP Oxford page www.matchi.se/facilities/mvpoxford to get your court or activity booked. Court access is fully automated, with a code for the gates included in the booking confirmation and equipment located by the courts. And for those who want a post-game drink or bite, The Fishes nearby is highly recommended!
Opening Hours Mon-Sun, 7am-10pm
Booking Platform www.matchi.se/facilities/mvpoxford Bookings via MATCHi, 7-14 days in advance Pricing £15-30 per court (4 people) per hour/