Some of you will be aware of my uber-keen love of padel tennis. Some, hopefully, will even have been bitten by the love of padel as well. If you’ve not heard of padel tennis and are interested in a game that is fun, energising and exciting to play, then you need to check it out! I suggest starting with my ‘introductory’ post on padel that covers the history of padel tennis and the state of play. A game that was invented in Mexico back in 1969, it’s now said to be the fastest growing sport in the world, with a chance to become an Olympic sport as early as 2028 (although it’s far from a shoo-in).
Part of the magic of padel (pá-del) tennis is that it is played with a Spanish flair, aka a smile on the face and/or with a sangria waiting in the shade. I consider myself reasonably fluent in Spanish, but padel has a language of its own. I have had great joy in learning the terms and subtleties of the game that, until now, is dominated by Spanish speakers (i.e. Spain and Argentina). Based on the current World Padel Tour (WPT) rankings, here’s a table that shows the geographic spread for the top 100 for the professional men and women (broken out for top 10, 11 to 20 and then 21 to 100):
If you’re wondering about the rankings in the other (competitive) tour, International Padel Federation (aka the FIP), the portrait is essentially the same. So, the bottom line is that professional padel is dominated by the Spanish. Moreover, most of the best foreign players train in Spain. No doubt, it will be interesting to see how the other countries develop, especially as the number of courts and players grow. I see France and Italy as having the best shot next in both the men’s and women’s tour, although there are more upcoming prospects on the women’s side from Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. I wonder when will mixed doubles become a thing? Whatever the case maybe, one of the most important things you need to learn to do on the court is communicate with your partner. You may not need to use the Spanish vocabulary, but we should definitely all be doing more talking on court!
Padel tennis vocabulary
So, now for the vocabulary ‘lesson’ on padel tennis. First off, the word: padel. In Spanish, the accent is on the a: pádel. In English, when trying to say the Spanish word, we tend to put the accent on the second syllable. It’s worth noting that the “-el” (think: elle) is more pronounced than the way we say the end of word paddle (sounds more like “uhl”).
Below are some of the key words in Spanish (en español) that, in themselves, provide an insight into the specific shots, subtleties and differences of this gorgeous game. I’ve broken the vocabulary down into the different strokes, effects (on the ball) and locations on the court and added a key insight into each shot (from my point of view). I hope I’ve got them right. Please put corrections and additions in the comments!
I’m not going to list out all the strokes (such as a forehand drive or backhand volley, etc). I really want to isolate the shots that make padel more specific.
- el globo – the lob. If this is a shot that one knows in squash and tennis, I single it out as it’s such an important shot in padel. The pros probably throw up a lob around 25%+ of the time. It’s a key method to unlodge the players from the net. The lob is most often done from the back of the court, but can also be done from the front with deftness of hand. Getting the right height and depth is critical. Key insight: Unlike in lawn tennis where the lob is typically a shot of last resort, in padel, it can be used to regain the net. It’s so important, you ought to practice it!
- la salida de pared – retrieving the ball off the back/side walls is the bread and butter of padel. For the lawn tennis players, using the walls is always the biggest challenge. For squash players (rackets and real tennis players too), they’re usually very comfortable. Here’s the key insight: the wall is your friend.
- la chiquita – the dink (a soft shot that barely goes over the net). It’s a counter intuitive shot for most tennis players in that you imagine you’re giving up pace. But, played with deftness and angles, the chiquita is highly effective and can help regain the net. Key insight: This is a good shot to hit if the opponents are a couple of metres back from the net (or aren’t particularly fast at pouncing on slow balls). If it’s a good chiquita, you may be able to charge the net. If not, hold back patiently wait for another chance (i.e. via a good lob).
- la bajada – a shoulder-height drive after a lob that sits up after coming off the back wall. Key insight: you need to rush back to the wall to get yourself in the ready position. Only attempt with a ball that is above or at shoulder height.
- la contrapared – here you hit (often just with a flick of the wrist) the ball against your backwall to get it back over to the other side, most often in the form of a rising ball (lob). Another variation is when, much like a boast in squash, you strike the ball into the side wall, angling it back over the net. Key insight: this is quite a technical shot, in other words, it deserves to be practiced. Most of the time (for us mere mortals), this is a desperation shot; but at the pro level it’s often used with skill as a resetting lob.
- el bloqueo – a block volley at the net, defending against a hard drive (e.g. bajada or smash) from the back of the court. Key insight: the ready position means having your racket head up.
- la dejada – a drop shot, off the volley. Key insight: this shot is best reserved for advanced players.
- la cuchilla – the knife shot, perfected by the #3 pro, Paquito Navarro. It is a combination of a bajada + vibora off the back wall, whipped toward or through the net players. Key insight: when mastered, the side spin helps bring the ball down, and makes it harder to retrieve off the back wall if it goes through.
- el chancletazo – this is for a ball that comes a higher over the net, floating a bit, that you slap hard and fast. You strike the ball (keeping a continental grip) flat, straight and low and break your wrist (pronate) as you’re going through the ball. Speed is key. This shot is especially useful as a surprise shot when the players are at the back. Key insight: cheat up toward the net and pounce on a ball that is harder to retrieve off the back wall (where the player probably has his eye stuck on the ball). Check out Augustín Tapia (world #5) as he pounces on this one (via TikTok).
- la salida de pista – if you’re looking to do this shot, then we say you are ready for ‘show time.’ This is when a player dashes outside the court to retrieve a smash that has bounced out. You either aim to hit it back through the side door (at the net or ground on the side of your opponents) or you pop it up over the side wall into the court and scurry back to help your abandoned partner). Key insight: watch out for the knees and elbows as you rush out the side door. This is no easy feat!
Focus on your overhead options:
One of the particularities of padel is that there are many different options to consider in your overhead. As the ball floats down, you must make a decision and execute. Unless you’re an advanced player, it’s best to make up your mind early and stick to it.
- la bandeja – the “tray” shot. The bandeja (ban-de-ha, guttural ha) doesn’t exist in other racket sports. It’s an overhead where the player cuts the ball on the lower side, striking it at shoulder height. One of the maestro’s in the game is the long-time reigning champion, now #13, Fernando Belastaguín. Check out Sandy Farquharson’s explanatory video. Key insight: length is the key. I use this shot mostly to give myself time to get back to the net, so I tend to try to feather it toward the service line. The better the cut, the less it will pop off the back wall.
- el remate – the smash can either be a topspin kick serve or a flat smash. When you go for the topspin smash is less about brute power and more about the technicity. It feels/looks more like a second-serve action in tennis where you are exaggerating the topspin. If you seek to bounce the ball out of the court off the back wall (“por 3“), you want to hit it as high in the air as possible, ideally arching backwards, aiming to hit the ball directly above your head (or even behind) and then get the padel to drive (brush) over the top of the ball. If you’re aiming to have the ball come back to your side of the court (staying inside the court), whether it’s the flat smash or topspin kick, this is a high level shot. Key insight: Where you aim the ball (on ground) will depend how far back you are in the court. The king of the big remate, when he’s on form, is world #1, Juan Lebrón.
- el rulo a la verja – Think of this as a relaxed “kick” serve. It is more of a rollover shot (a left-sided shot for a right hander) where you aim to brush the ball into the side netting (in the diagonal). Hitting this with the right weight is key as you need to get it by the opposite player who might sometimes cheat up, but ideally to get the ball to die off/near the back wall. Check out the maestro, Paquito Navarro’s video (in Spanish). Key insight: play this shot when the ball is over on the far left of the court to give you the best angle. And don’t forget to rush back to the centre, at the net, to cut down the angles of the return shot.
- el amago de remate – the fake smash where the player sets up to hit a smash, but does a dink instead. The idea is for the second bounce to die near or off the back wall, while the opposition is rushing forward in anticipation of dealing with a hard smash. Key insight: you need to earn the right for the amago by showing you can pop the smash. Having a similar set-up / stance as when you hit the bona fide smash will help you to disguise the fake.
- la víbora – an overhead shot where you hit the ball on the outside (away from you), striking the ball at shoulder height (like the bandeja) but a little further out in front for you (vs the bandeja). It can be hit with more aggression, and has a different trajectory and a bounce off the back wall that tends to come back on itself. The options for hitting a víbora are different according to the situation. For example, on the right side for a right-hander, you can aim your víbora directly toward the side netting on the left. Key insight: it’s useful to mix up between bandeja and víbora. Check out the víbora video with one of the best, Sanyo Gutierrez.
- el gancho – a straight-arm overhead shot that’s a softer shot, designed to buy the net player time to keep the position at the net. You strike the ball flat on the back. Key insight: this is a positional shot. A typical example is for the right-side right-handed player to hit a gancho against a lob that is going over the left shoulder either back down the middle or at the diagonal player.
Here’s a really useful instructional video about the smash from Sandy Farquharson’s School of Padel, with the Finnish “master smasher” Saska Huttunen.
Padel effects or expressions:
- por 3 (por tres) – an overhead smash that goes out of the court over the side wall (3 metres high, hence the name) after hitting the back wall.
- por 4 (por cuatro) – an overhead smash that bounces out of the court directly after hitting the ground (without hitting a wall), usually going over the back wall (4 metres tall).
- la dormilona – an exquisite shot where the player puts the ball to sleep. Specifically, as the ball comes back over the net following a smash, the player kisses the ball and it dies on the other side of the net. Check out this video of a couple of well executed dormilonas.
- con todo – this is hitting the ball with all your might.
- sin fallo – without error… As my cousin, Nallé (pro player), told me: it’s better to be angrier at yourself for the silly/simple mistakes you make than to be glad about the great (aka riskier) shots you make.
- valiente – a call out for the player who has the courage to go for the big smash
- el rincón – the corner.
- la pared (el cristal) – with modern courts of padel, the ‘wall’ is now more often than not made of glass (cristal). Back in the beginning, they were bona fide walls.
- la reja or la verja – the side netting.
- la red – the net.
- el pico – the intersection on the sides of the court where the wire netting meets the wall/glass.
Some basic rules of thumb when playing padel
For anyone beginning or with an intermediate level at padel, here are some good rules of thumb to consider in your padel tactics:
- The game is most often won by the team that makes less (stupid) errors.
- Points are most often won by the team that holds the net.
- Hit a majority of your shots (especially drives from the back) down the middle (al centro). Going down the side is riskier.
- Lobs should make up about a third of your shots from the back.
- The wall’s your friend. Whenever possible, at the back, get used to letting the ball go through and play it off the back wall. You typically have more time than you think!
- On the serve: there are two options when serving: ‘tennis’ or i-formation (aka padel). Only use the i-formation on your serve if you know you can cover down the line in time. If you do use the i-formation, I recommend hitting a majority of your serves down the middle (see image 2 below), where the server (1) is playing on the right-hand side. While it’s a simple shot to do, it’s worth practicing to make your serve, to learn how to get it to bounce off the side wall and make it a little more difficult to return.
- When you have a left-handed partner, they should always take the right hand side, so that both players have forehand down the middle.
- Assuming both players are right handed, the stronger player usually plays on the left and the more consistent player plays on the right. If you use the ‘tennis’ formation for the serve, that means you are switching sides every point which can be trickier to manage in terms of shot selection. But it also means the workload is spread out a bit more evenly as the person on the left usually gets a higher percentage of balls to play (on his/her forehand).
Thanks to my trusted Spanish padel players for their help: namely Alvaro (based at NTC and coach of the GB women’s team), Rafa and Antonio (coaches at Chiswick Rocks Lane). Aside from all the resources mentioned above, including Sandy’s Padel School, here’s a plug for the two UK padel magazines, The Bandeja, run by Emma Kimber, and PadelPaper. If you’re looking for padel tennis equipment, here’s a plug for my friend and entrepreneur, Francisco, at The Padel Company.
As a bonus, check out the FIP Rise tournament (first ever in GB) with the competitive finals for the women, featuring Britain’s Tia Norton and Carla Fito Fernandez as well as the men’s Bram Meijer and Sten Richters v Bastien Blanque and Jose Jimenez. Both matches were commented by Sandy Farquharson, who provided all along a good deal of insights into the tactics of the game.