Can pickleball go international?

Can pickleball go international?

DALLAS, TX - Pickleball has taken the U.S. by storm, quickly earning the title of the fastest-growing sport in the nation - but what about internationally?

Just looking at the limited number of pros from outside North America, it's relatively safe to say that pickleball hasn’t quite reached global status just yet.

There is, however, another racket sport that rivals in popularity overseas. It’s called padel.


Padel originated in Mexico, but is especially popular in Spain, Argentina, and Italy.

Played on a court about a third of the size of a tennis court, padel utilizes the same scoring methodology as tennis. And the majority of the play is doubles.

What makes padel particularly unique is that the courts are enclosed within glass walls. Players can play balls off the walls - and even run outside the walls to chase down balls - which often makes for incredibly entertaining gameplay.


Some players see padel as pickleball on steroids. With no kitchen line and walls that constantly keep the game moving, there’s no such thing as a line call debate.

Simply put, it’s a racket sport that rivals pickleball in terms of worldwide popularity. 

A few of the top pickleball athletes are padel fans too, including Ben Johns, Collin Johns, and Dekel Bar. Check out highlights from a recent padel session that included all three pros:

“Padel is super popular in Spain. It’s the most popular sport. I think at least half of Spain plays padel,” said Luis de Cristobal, the director of the Mediterranean Open.

One reason why pickleball has stagnated in growth overseas is because of padel.

Both sports are similar in nature, but padel courts are absolutely everywhere on the other side of the pond.

Cristobal, though, has a soft spot for pickleball.

“Padel is not good for people who are older. Pickleball is nicer for the body,” he explained.

Sure, there are plenty of pickleball-related injuries, but as a whole, the sport is a little more leisurely than padel. And there’s longevity. Players can age out of padel, but there are plenty of examples of pickleballers into their 90s. There are even senior pro leagues. It’s truly a sport you can play for life.

Pickleball is also easier from a logistical standpoint. You can simply transform tennis courts into pickleball courts, whereas padel infrastructure is far more complex.

With more international tennis academies like the Rafa Nadal Academy building pickleball courts and spreading the word, pickleball is gaining more traction abroad.

Padel is a dynamic sport that looks just as much fun to play as it is to watch, but I’m a little bit biased towards pickleball.

Cover photo credit: Tennis Central