Players from Malaga are now at the peak of world padel. This sport has become notably more popular in recent years, but there are many who were enthusiasts even before it became fashionable. The World Padel Tour (WPT), despite the fact it has not been in existence for long, is now the most important international circuit, bringing together the best players in the world for its numerous events every year. The ranking is mostly led by Brazilian, Argentinian and Spanish competitors.
Among them are six players from Malaga, who have been competing in the various events over the course of the season.
“I entered the World Padel Tour just to test myself. In the first years I didn’t even think about the ranking, only about how I was progressing,” says Álex Ruiz. Number 19 in the world at an individual level, he has already secured victory in two major WPT events, one of them this year, which has probably been his best season so far.
“Now I still do the same, check how I’m progressing, but I’m also more interested in winning,” he explains. This campaign has been complicated for Álex: his playing partner, Argentinian Elías Estrella, died in a traffic accident as he was on his way to a championship in Paraguay. “It was a difficult time. I was finding things hard, and he helped me a great deal,” says Álex.
A question of partners
A player’s partner is fundamental in padel, especially on this circuit, because the ‘opens’ are played in pairs, unlike the ‘masters’, which are only attended by the eight best males and six best females in the individual ranking.
“This year, with so many changes of partner, I haven’t been able to find any stability,” says Ernesto Moreno, who is from Marbella. “If one of the two believes things aren’t going well, then that partnership comes to an end,” he says.
He has finished the circuit as number 53 in the world, but last year he competed in one of the semi-finals. He is the same age as Álex Ruiz and knows him quite well.
“I’ve played with Alex many times since I was young, especially after the age of 14, when we shared the same trainer,” he says. However,they have never played as a pair in the WPT because, when they began on this circuit, they each chose partners who were more experienced. “We both know that eventually, over time, we will end up playing together,” they say.
When talking about partners, Beatriz González has to be mentioned. Just 15 years of age, she is the youngest player to compete in the WPT and she formed a partnership with the most veteran player on the circuit, Argentinian Paula Eyheraguibel, who is 43. “This is the first year I have played in the WPT and it has taken me by surprise,” says Beatriz, who finished 29th.
“She’s good, she has a lot of talent and a great future,” says world champion Carolina Navarro, who has supported the youngster from the start. Carolina has become one of the most famous names from Malaga in this sport. She says she comes home whenever possible tovisit her family and help her sister with her padel school. She is the president of that initiative, which brings this sport within reach of people with disabilities.
Also in the female category is María del Carmen Villalba, who is currently 15th in the ranking. She began by playing tennis but decided to try her luck at padel and finally decided to stay with it.
“I have been in the WPT for several years now and I can say that I am at my best at present,” she says. “It is a sport which you have to play because you like it, because it is difficult to make a living at it, especially if you are a girl.”
Making a living
This is also the argument of Andreína de los Santos, the sixth face from Malaga on the World Padel Tour. She was born in Salto, Uruguay, but has lived in Malaga for some time and combines her training with teaching private classes in padel at the Vals gymnasium, just like Ernesto Moreno.
“Bearing in mind that you have to travel to play in the tournaments, you sometimes end up losing money instead of earning it. That’s why sponsors are so important,” says Andreína, whose uncle is former Malaga and Valencia footballer De los Santos.
It is a problem which especially affects female players of this sport, say the girls from Malaga, but despite the economic difficulties the quality of players in the WPT remains high.
“The standard of female competition has improved greatly. It is harder to reach the semi-finals now,” says Carolina Navarro. She is an international champion who Andreína de los Santos has also played on this circuit. “I knew Carolina before, but when I ended up playing against her I was very tense. It’s hard to play someone who is the best in the world,” she says.
“In the end, only the ten or 15 best in the world can make a living as a professional padel tennis player,” says Ernesto Moreno. He says it is difficult for men and women to be able to dedicate themselves to this sport. Many of these players stress that they play padel because it is their passion, and because they want to keep improving.
An increasing number of players from Malaga province are starting to take their first steps in the World Padel Tour, although none have yet qualified for an event on the international circuit. They include youngsters such as Cayetano Rocafort, or José Carlos Gaspar and Jerónimo González, who were the only pair of native ‘malagueños’ in the preliminary stages of the WPT.