What is pickleball? The sport Matthew Perry played just hours before his death and which is already growing in Spain

MATTHEW Perry played pickleball, a sport growing in popularity in Spain, five times a week in his battle against drug and alcohol addiction. 

The Friends star died on Saturday, October 28, after being found unresponsive in a jacuzzi at his Los Angeles home. 

The 54-year-old had been open about his struggles with addiction and cited pickleball, a sport often compared to padel, with helping him to sobriety. 

In an interview with People magazine, his pickleball coach, Matt Manasse said: “He thought it was something that could help with his recovery and he was doing an awesome job. 

“He loved it. He came out five times a week, he would always talk about it. He got so much better, always made everyone laugh. He was competitive, just a genuine, good guy — caring for everybody.”

The actor played just hours before his death at the exclusive Riviera Country Club near his LA mansion and according to his coach seemed to be ‘doing really well’. 

Matthew Perry played pickleball five times a week. Photo: Aleksander Saks/Unsplash

What is pickleball and how does it compare to padel?

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, with 36.5 million players in 2022. 

Now, the sport is growing in Spain, with over 20,000 players. It has now been incorporated by the Spanish Tennis Federation (Real Federación Española de Tenis), who hope to launch a national championship in the near future. 

Pickleball is often compared to padel, which has exploded in popularity in Spain with over 96,000 players in 2021. 

However, although both games see players hit the ball back and forth over a net, the similarities end there and the games differ in many ways from court sizes to scoring systems. 

In pickleball, players use square, unperforated rackets made from a variety of materials while padel rackets are often made from fibreglass and have a perforated surface. 

Pickleballs are lightweight, perforated and made of plastic while padel uses tennis balls with slightly less pressure. 

Pickleball is exploding in popularity in the States. Photo: Joan Azeka/Unsplash

Unlike padel, pickleball players can only score if they are serving and the opposing team’s objective is to force them to make mistakes. 

Games are played to 11 points and must be won by a margin of two. In comparison, padel uses the same scoring system as tennis.  

A unique aspect of pickleball is that players cannot hit a volley in the 7-foot area either side of the net known as the ‘kitchen’. 

Meanwhile in padel, players utilise back and side walls to score, much like squash. 

Although there are many differences between padel and pickleball, the sport could see a similar boom in years to come. 

New support from the Spanish Tennis Federation could give the sport a boost, coupled with the fact it can be played on regular tennis courts unlike padel, which requires special courts and surrounding walls. 

Padel exploded in popularity during the pandemic, as many turned to the sport as an outlet.  

For Matthew Perry, whose cause of death is still unknown, pickleball served a similar purpose and its stress relieving properties could see it expand across Europe in the next few years. 


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