x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UAE tennis players fuel momentum for padel tennis as participation grows in the country

Until last year, there were two padel tennis courts in the UAE, at the NAS Sports Complex, with a few seats along the sides. Now there is an annex with two courts and stands that can seat 800, reports Ahmed Rizvi.

The Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai now has seating for 800 spectators at its padel tennis courts and has hosted Ramadan  tournaments the past two years. Courtesy photo
The Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai now has seating for 800 spectators at its padel tennis courts and has hosted Ramadan tournaments the past two years. Courtesy photo

Last month, Omar Behroozian, the UAE’s top tennis player, got his first taste of a racquet sport that had already won over several of his Davis Cup teammates.

The Al Janahi brothers – Hamad, Mohammed, Fares and Abdulrahman – were a regular feature at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex’s padel tennis courts every night during Ramadan, and so were Mahmoud Nader and Zayed ­Abbas.

Padel tennis combines tennis and squash, with the players facing each other over a net on a court with walls, off which the ball can be played.

“It was really a lot of fun,” said Behroozian, who won the UAE’s men’s title, alongside Abdulrahman Al Janahi, at the NAS Ramadan tournament.

“We were not there for the tournament last year because we were preparing for the Davis Cup, but a few colleagues from the tennis scene played it and they said it’s fun.

“So this year we decided we will try it out. It’s a nice game. It’s indoors as well, which is great when the weather gets a bit hot.”

That, perhaps, is one of the biggest appeals of the sport, which is played predominantly in Spain and Latin America.

Until last year, there were two courts in the UAE, at the NAS Sports Complex, with a few seats along the sides. Now there is an annex with two courts and stands that can seat 800.

The new facilities have been attracting plenty of well-known faces. Quique Sanchez Flores, the former Al Ahli and Al Ain football coach, was one of them.

Taking a short holiday in the UAE, he was at the NAS complex to play padel tennis with friends.

“This sports centre is amazing, really nice,” said Flores, who claimed that he had played padel at a “high level”.

“Everything is improving around sport here and it is amazing to see this. What is really impressive to see is so many people are here, enjoying the sport.”

The enthusiasm of the participants and the fans has led to the foundation of the UAE Padel Tennis Association (UAEPTA), with Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum, an enthusiastic player, as its president.

The news was welcomed by the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sports Councils, and the UAE National Olympic Committee offered its full support.

Another enthusiastic supporter of the new sport is Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, who can be seen regularly on the courts, playing alongside Sheikh Saeed, and his encouragement led to the formation of the UAEPTA.

“The plan is to spread this sport as per the instructions of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, by working in the community across the country, using every means possible,” said Mohammed Mubarak Al Mutaiwie, the vice-chairman of the UAEPTA.

“So our work will involve marketing this new sport properly, approaching the different departments to promote the sport, and looking for new locations to set up courts.

“We are planning to approach schools, youngsters and people of different ages, and invite them to have a taste of this sport. Hopefully, within a short time we will have a UAE team ready to compete locally and globally.

“We have already seen over the two Ramadan tournaments that more and more people are playing padel tennis. So we are very optimistic we will find some very good players to represent the country.

“We have a great team here to help us, the best of trainers, and a great facility.”

That announcement is good news for the country’s fringe tennis players, Behroozian said, and it could attract new recruits to racquet sports.

“I know a lot of tennis players who are not good enough to, let’s say, play tournaments and stuff like that, so they are really into padel,” Behroozian said. “They are playing every day and from what I have seen, it’s an enjoyable game.

“I just hope more locals will be encouraged to play it and hopefully it can shoot up the popularity of racquet sports.”

Sandy Farquharson, the racquet sports manager at Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex, agreed with Behroozian.

“We have been lucky to have quite a lot of the ex-UAE tennis players and the current ones coming to play,” Farquharson said.

“That kind of enthusiasm from them is definitely going to help promote it within the country.

“I think this is an ideal sport, not just for this region, but generally. It’s a lot easier to learn from a racquet sports perspective. It’s much easier for people to enjoy playing. It’s doubles, it’s more sociable, it’s indoors. So it’s perfect.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

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