Giving Padel XO

Tomorrow‘s Sports Editor, David Lugg, trials a new sport under the guidance of Ex-Scottish international rugby star, Max Evans.

A few years ago, I challenged myself to participate in as many different sports as I possibly could, regardless of their obscurity. The thinking behind this was the old mantra that if you don’t try, you never know. Perhaps I could have found my niche and been the next British yak-polo champion (yes, it actually is a sport). And so began a long journey of sporting discovery from archery to zorb football and everything in between. 

Having moved to Portugal, a country renowned for its all-encompassing love of football, I didn’t have high hopes of extending my list of untapped sports. But a chance encounter at Loulé rugby club changed this for the better. Ex-Scottish international rugby star Max Evans, had just achieved promotion to the 2nd tier of Portuguese rugby for Loulé. We began chatting about sporting life in the Algarve before he explained his new-found love of padel, a sport that had remained very much under my radar. A challenge was set and we agreed to meet for a future match.

If, like me, padel had largely escaped your attention, let me bring you up to speed. Padel is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world and combines the disciplines of tennis and squash. Its main appeal is that it is a social game (usually played in doubles) and is based less on power and more on guile and precision. That said, there is no shortage of competitive edge, but it is, on the whole, an adaptable sport that is suitable for all ages and skill levels.

As match day approached, it dawned upon me that I may be out of my depth. I was a half-decent football and cricket player in my day, but I will reluctantly admit that changes in my lifestyle have greatly affected changes in my pace. Entering your forties and having a baby is not conducive to playing sport with international rugby players. Especially one who recently had a successful stint on Dancing on Ice, a British ice-skating show with a television audience of over six million people. No pressure, then!

When the day arrived, I felt relieved to know that Max and I were on the same team. Before we started, he gave me a 10-minute lesson (Max is a level 2 coach) about the basics, such as positioning and ‘learning the walls’, where, for example, you can play the ball off your own back wall. Before I had time to take it all in, our opponents arrived and the match began. 

I quickly learned that teamwork is an imperative feature as we raced into a 3-0 lead, before realising that I was far from the finished article. We lost the set 6-3.

Cheered on by the vociferous crowd (my girlfriend and baby), the second set was a tight affair. At 5-4, we fashioned out a set point. Our opponent played a great shot down the line, which I just about got the racket to. The ball arced high, but it lacked distance. All four players stood motionless as the ball dropped down on top of the net cord before falling agonisingly into our half of the court. There were cries of relief and despair depending upon perspective, but it was all in good humour, as is the nature of the sport. We went on to lose the set 7-5, but there were handshakes and hugs all around. 

The experience offered a sharp learning curve, but above all, it was fun.

After the match, I sat down with Max to discuss his passion for the game as well as his involvement in promoting the sport to a larger audience. It transpired that padel is far more than just a hobby; it is now a major part of his life. “I first discovered padel in the summer of 2018 when I had just finished Dancing on Ice. I immediately fell in love with the game.”

I started playing at The Campus at Quinta do Lobo. They have panoramic (glass walls) courts with beautiful carpets. I then went back to the UK and I played on a terrible court which affected the experience of Padel in a negative way.” Far from being put off by his experience, Max saw the lack of high-quality courts as an opportunity to grow Padel in a developing market.

“I formed PadelXO as a ‘best-in-class’ Padel service provider. We supply courts, covers, rackets, booking systems – anything you would need in the Padel industry, whether you are setting up a club or just want rackets. The courts are Portuguese-manufactured and the rackets are made of Portuguese cork. I now have the licence to sell in the UK, Ireland, South Africa and hopefully soon a few others.”

Max is particularly keen to sell the virtues of the hand-made rackets. “From an orthopaedic point of view, the cork rackets have an ability to absorb vibration. I get a lot of messages from people with tennis elbow asking me about the qualities. In fact, if I don’t use a cork racket, I will get pain in my elbow, so I’m excited to be part of the Padel racket growth story.”

You get the sense that Max has every opportunity to succeed. He has a laudable blend of experience and enthusiasm combined with a competitive drive that is ingrained in every professional athlete. “All I want to do is grow this sport of Padel. It’s a sport that I’m always going to love. It’s not going away.” Nor, it seems, is Max Evans. Good luck to him.


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