Dubai: Padel has made giant strides from its infancy in the last decade leaving a huge footprint in country. However, the UAE padel is now aiming to go to the next level with focus on juniors development programme while also looking at improving the standards of the game in the region.
As a start, Dubai hosted the Junior World Cup qualification event involving the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Japan while the 11-team first Arab Padel Championship, in association with Dubai Sports Council, to begin at Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex courts on Wednesday with the final on October 1.
“Juniors are our strategic focus and the junior events are the ones that will keep the game alive,” Saeed Al Merri, Secretary General of UAE Padel Federation, told Gulf News.
Elaborating on the future road map to put UAE on par with some of the sports global superpowers, Al Merri added: “There are schools and private academies will play a bigger role in the junior development programme. It’s exciting times for padel community in the UAE with two back to back tournaments, one for juniors and the other for Arab men.”
The Arab Padel Championship will be a significant milestone in the development of padel within the Arab world. Padel, a fast-growing racquet sport, has gained immense popularity over the last few years with a growth rate of 40-50 per cent annually.
The Arab Padel Federation, which began earlier this year, has seen a massive jump in terms of participation. From 5 to 6 countries, the first Arab Padel Championship sees 11 teams competing for top honours. It also provides a chance for the Arab Federation to identify their rankings for the future events.
“When I started the game 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that the game would reach such level. Most of top influencers are pushing and playing padel. There are many new players who are curious to learn the game. The game is simple, so it doesn’t require marketing. Once you start then you will fall in love with the game, which is easy and enjoyable while also being played at a competitive pro level or as an amateur,” added Al Merri.
The 11 teams are divided into two groups with six and five and the top two from each group will proceed to the semi-finals while the remaining will play for positions and rankings.
“The fifth-placed teams in both groups and the sixth team in Group A will play a mini round-robin to determine the rankings,” Al Merri elaborated on the thought process behind the championship.
UAE has seen some impressive talents coming through over the years with the likes of Abdullah Abdullah, Fares Al Janahi, Abdullah Ahli and Salem Alhouli leading the country’s hopes. The quartet received a big boost to their confidence and their game when they took part in the first World Padel League, held in June this year.
The first franchise-based team event gave the UAE players the opportunity to be among the elite players in the world and gave them an insight into their thought process before and during the matches.
“I think it’s very important to be part of events like the World Padel League, it’s one thing that is missing for us as UAE national team players. We’re competing in this region but we’re not really exposed to the international players a lot. So having the experience to play against these players and just being around them, seeing how they are different on and off the court, will help me see and understand why they’re, performing their best,” Al Janahi had told Gulf News.
Two fomats annually
Ahmed Ghatwary, President of Arab Padel Federation, is also excited with the Arab championship, saying it had helped the sport grow in the region.
“We have 11 countries now, earlier it used to be 5-6 countries. In less than six months of the official formation of the Arab Federation, we have more than doubled in terms of countries’ participation,” he said unable to hide his pride and excitement.
“Our idea is to have a yearly tournament in two different formats, one for teams/countries and the other by pairs and slowly increase the number of tournaments. At the end of the day it helps players to improve their level with these tournaments,” he added.
Supportive tournaments are key
While every sport yearns to be played at the Olympics sometime in the future, Al Merri feels that is the final destination, but for now he’s more focused on the process that will take the game to the top of the world. “Olympics is the main objective, that is the final destination. Olympics happen every four years, so from the players’ perspective the chances of playing Olympics is just once or twice in their career. So we need more supportive tournament from the International Padel Federation like the World Cup, Asian Cup and Arab Cup. These events will keep the players motivated. So as an objective we want more tournaments,” Al Merri said.
But for now Al Merri has just one goal. “Winning the Arab Padel Championship, nothing less.”
Group A: UAE, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Morocco, Syria.
Group B: Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Sudan.