Game4Padel CEO Michael Gradon led England into this weekend’s Six Nations Masters Padel Tournament in Finland.
It has been a busy time for Michael having represented the Team GB veteran side in Las Vegas at the Senior World Padel Championships earlier this year and starred for England in the tennis final of last weekend’s Ascot Cup, coming up just short against Monaco at the Monte-Carlo Country Club.
The action this weekend was at the state-of-the-art 33-court Padel House, in Espoo, just outside Helsinki, Finland, where the intensity of international competition was matched by a strong desire to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow players from all around Europe.
The tournament is in its fourth year and 2022 saw a unique and subtle change to the competition with the age category per pair requiring to be +100 years, with a minimum age of +45 years for each individual.
When I caught up with him recently, Michael was anticipating a memorable weekend – his England side preparing to do battle with defending champions Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Estonia, and Ireland.
He said: “Everyone will want to be the winner of the Six Nations but we also want to make friends across national boundaries and enjoy each other’s company at the same time.
“We will all be ridiculously competitive but it will also be a fun event and that is the beauty of padel, you can be deadly competitive but also have lots of banter and laughs as well because you are all in such close proximity and the rallies can be amazing.
“The Six Nations is at the over-45 category but this time to add a bit of extra fun every pair has to have an aggregate age of over-100, so a 45-year-old would have to play with a 55-year-old.
“I am delighted to be captaining the English team and we are all looking forward to it tremendously and we know that the other countries will be every bit as determined as us to come out on top.”
The Six Nations was devised by the president of the Irish Padel Association Barry Coffey and Michael was keen to record his gratitude for all the hard work he has put in to ensure that friendly battle will ensue in Finland.
Michael said: “I know from bitter experience of putting on sporting events there is a huge amount of work behind the scenes and in fact my own (England) team were joking with me that as well as being captain I seem to occasionally be part-time travel agent.
“Poor Barry (Coffey) has his Irish team to sort out never mind the whole logistics of organising the tournament as well.
“Sponsors, trophies, I take my hat off to Barry he does a great job and we are all very much looking forward to the tournament.”
Publicity for the Six Nations Masters has included a superb poster designed by Irish Padel Association board member and certified coach Peter Cranny. The poster uses an iconic structure from the host city and works it into the theme which this year is ‘The Guardians of Padel’ with the massive statues featured in the poster forming part of the facade of Helsinki’s central station.
Turning his attention to reflect on his participation at the World Senior Championships for Great Britain in Las Vegas in the spring Michael was delighted with an opportunity that saw him face one of the biggest names in competitive padel in recent years.
He said: “It was a mega serious event, although we still had time for an occasional laugh, and very exciting to be at such a prestigious global tournament playing against the best players in the world in our respective age groups.
“My very first match was a special privilege and amazing experience as GB was drawn against world champions Spain and in my 50+ match I got to play a legend of the game in Willie Lahoz who only six years before won a couple of World Padel Tour titles with the padel superstar Fernando Belasteguin known universally as Bela!
“But with over 600 competitors and each country fielding one pair at each age group of 35+, 40+, 45+, 50+ and 55+ it really was a great tournament with a tremendous mix.”
They say that age is just a number and certainly it has proven no concern to Michael as he shows zero sign of slowing down in his 60s: “Although I am frighteningly old at 63, at world level the highest age category is 55+ so playing 50+ or 55+ means competing against much younger players but there is talk about creating a 60+ category which would be a welcome development!” said Michael.
He continued: “Age actually doesn’t have quite such an impact as in other sports, with lots of rallies decided by finesse and skill rather than just power with the only aspect that really differs between a 40-to 45-year-old and my age group is the sheer power of their smashing.
“Sadly my shoulder and therefore smashing strength has been destroyed by too much tennis over the years but I try to make up for that in other ways. Watching and playing against the world’s best players in each age group just demonstrated to me how much I’ve got to learn in terms of technique and tactics compared to those who have been playing for many, many, more years than us in the UK!
“Again, in terms of age it is less significant and I am lucky enough to play with a lot of tennis friends in their 30’s who play tennis to a much higher level than I ever achieved but until they fully learn the game of padel I can just about compete on level terms as I have played more padel than them.”
When it comes to the transition to padel from other racket sports Michael has no doubt it is a plus to have wielded a racket in some capacity before becoming a paddler: “It is definitely a big advantage if you have played one of the other racket sports that involve playing the ball of the back wall like squash for example.
“But especially the rather obscure sports of rackets and real tennis which require very similar techniques to padel. I played rackets at school for four years and then had three years of competitive Real Tennis which has been a big help with my padel.”
Yet while he is testing his mettle against the best veteran padel players the continent has to offer Michael has no doubt about his vision for Game4Padel and he said: “Our vision is to maintain and continually expand our position as the premier padel brand in the UK and in a number of selected overseas markets.
“We already have more padel venues open than any other business in the UK and hope to cement our position as the market leader even more over the next 12 months as we announce and implement some very exciting multi-venue partnerships.
“We certainly don’t see padel as just for tennis, badminton, or squash players. It’s for people who play any sport and those that don’t!
“In fact we quite often describe it as a game which emphasises that you don’t have to be sporty to play it.”