IN a wide-ranging interview, Annabel Croft recalls how she first got involved with Game4Padel and ponders the UK’s tennis/padel relationship going forward.
The British tennis icon was one of Game4Padel’s first ambassadors, alongside fellow GB tennis great Andrew Castle, and was first introduced to padel by our CEO Michael Gradon. Annabel is now an enthusiastic player and has installed a padel court at the Pine Cliffs Resort in Portugal which is home to the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy.
A respected TV commentator, who has become the tennis go-to girl when it comes to comment and analysis, Annabel is now a hugely valued member of our team who has been on hand in Wales and Scotland to open Game4Padel facilities at Windsor Penarth and Edinburgh Park.
Now we are also delighted to share Annabel’s thoughts on the prospect of a padel court popping up at Wimbledon and whether, as in Spain, padel can leapfrog tennis in terms of participation.
Recalling how her involvement with Game4Padel first came about Annabel said: “My involvement with Game4Padel came through Michael Gradon who was on the committee at the All England Club. I saw him at the club regularly and he just sat me down one day and explained he had a new venture and it was in padel and asked me if I had ever played, which of course at that stage I had not.
“So he took me down to a court and I played with Andrew Castle, who is very good at padel, and I immediately enjoyed it. After that Michael told me he was looking for a couple of ambassadors and that Andrew would be one and how did I fancy being the other?
“That was around three years ago, around 2019, and so we became the first two ambassadors and I have been involved right from the beginning and watching this business grow and grow and I’m just so excited to be a part of it.”
Speaking of the All England Club it seemed appropriate to ask Annabel if she ever saw Wimbledon following Stade Roland Garros, the home of the French Open, which installed a padel court on Court Philippe Chatrier to host a major padel championship.
“That’s a really good question but that would take a lot. I doubt whether that would happen on Centre Court as it is the hallowed ground, and of course grass, and I think they would want to keep it separate for these reasons,” said Annabel.
The former GB No.1 continued: “Maybe with the site across the road it may be possible but I can’t see it at Wimbledon and Centre Court, it really is the hallowed turf and I have seen the painstaking work that goes in to it almost weekly and it is just such a beautiful court.
“I do think the O2 Arena would be an amazing venue for padel. That said I heard the padel court they put up at Roland Garros was amazing.”
In Spain, where padel has displaced tennis as the number two participatory sport behind football, Rafa Nadal has expressed his concerns at the relegation of the sport that made him immortal.
So, could Annabel ever see that being mirrored in the UK?
“It’s a concern for tennis that padel could overtake it and the reason could be that you can just pick up a padel bat and be able to play a lot quicker and with an easier process to get there,” reflected Annabel.
She continued: “Really within 30-minutes you can have a bit of a bash about but with tennis there is something wonderful about it technically and aesthetically that is just different and so I think the two sports can sit alongside each other.
“Whenever I have tried to describe tennis in the past, it is like you are picking up a paint brush and trying to be Picasso and looking to be a champion and I don’t think people have any idea how difficult it is to play tennis. Out of that and the base of the pyramid may come some professional players.
“But not everyone who picks up a tennis racket approaches it that way – for many the social element is more important. Most people just want to play something that is healthy, enjoyable and you can have fun at. So, I find myself excited about padel and I’m looking forward to going forward with padel and especially Game4Padel and just having fun with it.”
When it comes to the personal attraction padel holds for her the former Wimbledon star said: “I have an Academy (The Annabel Croft Academy) at the Pine Cliffs Resort in Portugal. We have had it for nine years and at the moment we have one padel court but we are looking to add to that.
“The court is always in play. Also, my husband Mel I have kids in their mid to late 20s and they are talking about padel and how they can’t get courts in the London area where I know there is a real buzz around padel.
“In terms of my own play I get on a padel court as often as I can although I have to fit it around my TV commentary work and I still play tennis, but whenever I do play padel I always laugh a lot and enjoy it enormously and there is such a lovely social element to it.
“I must admit I am still trying to come to terms with playing off the back wall but I do really enjoy it and I can see myself playing a lot more padel going forward.
“So really I play padel for fun although I might get involved in some events and have been asked a couple of times to play in tournaments and was very much tempted but due to my commentary work I was forced to rule it out.”