Winner of the Australian Open in 2002, former coach of David Goffin, Thomas Johansson has been the General Manager of the APT since last December Padel Take the Tour. For Padel Magazine and just before the start of the Paraguayan Open, the Swede spoke at length about the growth curve of the padel as well as his ambitions for this circuit which is intended to be more international than the World Padel Tour.
“The containment created a huge exposure”
What is the situation of padel in Sweden now?
"The padel in Sweden is spreading faster than COVID-19! It is impressive to see. I believe that Sweden is the country in the world where the padel grows fastest. It is booming. It started 6 or 7 years ago, especially with Jonas Björkmann and others in the south of the country. Many structures have been opened. It has become one of the most popular sports because it is very social. If you have a minimum of coordination through playing tennis, football or ice hockey, you can reach a good level quickly. Another important aspect: you are not dependent on the level of other practitioners. For example, you can play are 3 with a good level and a beginner, you will still have a good time. In tennis, that is not possible. ”
The fact that the padel either a sport that respects social distancing has contributed to its recent boom?
“Indeed because the structures have been authorized to open in Sweden. Not all the time, but most of the time. It was great for the business of padel. People were able to discover this discipline at that time. ”
The number of plots continues to increase in Sweden
The growth of padel in Sweden, does it have any connection with the fact that it is a sport that can be practiced indoors?
“We have a majority of indoor tracks, precisely in relation to the climate. However, I note that many courts are created outdoors near golf clubs. There are many courses in Sweden and we often see that there are several courses that are added to the offer. I do not know the precise number of land available in Sweden but it keeps increasing. It is a great satisfaction to witness this. ”
Le padel and Sweden are linked with Zlatan Ibrahimovic who opened the franchise Padel Zenter. What does it represent in the development of the popularity of the discipline?
“Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jonas Björkman are very important, even though they have very different visions in their land construction projects. During the lockdown and restrictions, many artists who could not work began playing the padel. It created a huge exposure. I was in Sweden recently and saw people I never imagined in sportswear and yet they now play padel up to 3 times a week ! Potentially, the padel can become one of the most important sports in the world. ”
"With the padel, I'm always learning something new ”
What do you think about the appointment of Jonas Björkman as captain of the Swedish national team?
“I find that very interesting because he will be able to pass on all his experience acquired in tennis, both for the mental aspect but also for the physical preparation to become a professional player. Its presence is important not only for the padel Swedish but also for the whole circuit in general. For now, the padel is a small sport but it is growing so fast that it will become a mass sport in the next few years. I am delighted to see former tennis champions getting involved in the padel because we can contribute to its development. ”
Does the presence of former tennis players attract a new audience thanks to their notoriety?
“When I quit tennis, the first sport I played was golf. I really played there a lot for almost 3 years. But when you have kids, golf takes too much of your time. I discovered the padel and it was perfect: on a 2 hour time slot, you play 1h30, you have fun, you let off steam and you can go back to your occupations. Golf is all day. I really enjoy playing golf but at padel, no matter who I play with, I'm always learning something new. That's really what I'm looking for in sport and what I can't find in tennis because I've been doing this all my life. ”
Less frustration than golf perhaps too?
"Yes quite ! Golf is a particularly difficult sport and the more you play the more difficult it becomes. At padel, we play doubles and frustration can become a force. I take more pleasure in padel than golf. ”
Former tennis champions promote the padel
Did you keep good tennis habits with Thomas Enqvist?
“I played tennis with him a lot and now padel effectively ! Thomas is one of my best friends, he now lives in Aix-en-Provence and before the health crisis, we spent a lot of weekends together. He plays at padel as he was playing tennis he bounces on all the balls and hits hard, unfortunately he hardly ever lets the ball pass and our opponents often take advantage of it. We often play great matches and have a lot of fun. I would like him to play there a little more! ”
Is there a Swedish way to play padel ? With the great tradition of volleyball players in Sweden, we imagine that it is turned towards the offensive.
"The padel is a recent sport in Sweden, for 7 or 8 years. So it's pretty new. So we have to find new Spanish or South American coaches to explain to us how to play padel. In Sweden and not only, it is former tennis players who train. So yes, we are good with a racket and a ball but teaching is different. It takes time even if Sweden have reached a real good level because the federation has invested in foreign coaches. I hope we will have teams on the APT and the WPT in the near future. ”
It is crucial for the padel Swedish to have champions quickly? In tennis, since Robin Söderling, there has been a decline in interest in practice and this has resulted in the formation and blossoming of talents.
“In Sweden, when it comes to tennis, we have failed to attract children from the suburbs of big cities. Conversely, football clubs took advantage of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's fame. He's an icon and he's attracted so many children, boys and girls… He succeeded where tennis failed because we certainly focused more on the big cities. Yet outside of these, there is a tremendous amount of talent and a lot of determination to get things done. This is what the padel Swedish must do. This is what I see and which I like: the padel is not only concentrated in the big cities but it is also growing in the surrounding suburbs. This is why I believe that Sweden will become a great nation of padel. "
“With the APT, I combine my passion and my work”
You are the General Manager of the APT Padel Tower. Could you describe the main lines of this project?
“The APT Padel Tour offers tournaments on 3 continents : Europe, United States and South America. The padel has been my greatest passion for 5 years and becoming the new General Manager of the APT is a great honor because I can combine my passion and my work. Our goal is to create a different circuit. The most important message we want to send is that the APT wants to be a circuit for all and that we want to grow in many countries because that would allow more people to discover this wonderful sport. ”
Is there a risk of dispersal of interest with the presence of the WPT on one side and the APT on the other. The presence of several federations has never worked, boxing is a very good example.
“I hear what you say but I think that currently there is room for both circuits because the padel is for the moment a modest sport but which grows very quickly. We work in a different way. The APT is more global, we want to reach more people. The most important thing for the APT is to be global so that there are more practitioners. That's why we work with young players. This is the meaning of our involvement with the Fabrice Pastor Cup, a charity tournament which has been very successful in recent years. We therefore want to offer more time to young players and young players in the padel. "
By the way, where is the development of the women's APT circuit?
“This is a crucial aspect for us because, when we say that this circuit must be for everyone, it means that there must be women's matches. We are working intensively on the launch of a women's circuit. We will be making announcements very soon. In Sweden, male / female social practice is very balanced, it's 50/50. On the other hand, regarding the competitive aspect, there are many more men than women. This is a challenge that the APT wants to take up: to attract more women in the competitions of padel. "
“We have to create icons to arouse interest”
Could the APT embark on some sort of transfer policy to attract the best WPT players and create a rivalry?
“Both the APT and the WPT need to think about what's best for the padel. I am not interested in creating a rivalry. I just want the best for the padel, regardless of private interests. We all have an immense chance to be able to make the discipline grow. Now is the time to do something very important to the padel. We have some really great players and it's only a matter of time before they become very well known in many countries around the world. We have to create icons because that is how we arouse interest, especially that of children. I will do absolutely everything to make the padel and in the best conditions. As a tennis player, I have played in one of the most popular sports in the world. I have seen what has been achieved and I want to use all the good things I have seen and be inspired by it to padel. "
Develop the padel around the world
Let's dream a little: can we imagine in 5 or 10 years, a kind of SuperBowl of the padel between the best players of the WPT and those of the APT?
"That's a good idea! The idea is very good but we must first of all develop the padel worldwide. I really like what I see in Sweden, I talk to a lot of federations and I see that the padel is growing in countries where I wouldn't have thought it could work. It is a great challenge that awaits us for the coming years: development in Europe and the United States, focusing our attention on Asia. First of all, you have to build pitches to make people want to play and see matches. At the APT, we want to work for the development of the practice of padel. "
The APT will therefore be more oriented towards the internationalization of padel than can the WPT be?
“Our aim is to become more global and to attract more players to the world so that they can quite simply make a living from it. At present, very few players can live on padel. For the discipline to continue to grow, more players must be able to get by financially. I wish there were powerful federations in Europe, the United States and South America that could achieve this. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of interesting projects. It will take time, Rome was not built in a day. We have to be patient but I think we have a good strategy for the padel become one of the greatest sports in the world. "