From tennis to paddle: Thomas Johansson recounts his second life and complains about the “chaos” of a growing sport

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Change the racquet for the “paddle” and leave disappointed: it happened to a Grand Slam champion who, when he took an important position in the world of paddle, realized the organizational disorder and the lack of collaborative spirit of his fellow managers. Tennis is something else, far superior, he admits.
For former Swedish tennis player Thomas Johansson, “tennis is much more organized”. What is happening today in professional paddle is an unfortunate “chaos” caused by the ego of “several people” that ends up affecting the players, said the 2002 Australian Open champion during an interview with CLAY.
Johansson was general manager of the APT Paddle Tour, one of the three tours that dominate the professional scene, owned by Monegasque businessman Fabrice Pastor.
The Swede held the position for a year and a half, from shortly after the tour’s founding until last June. He left, overcome by the impossibility of joining forces with the competition for the benefit of the sport and the athletes: “I wanted to make things a bit more collaborative between the circuits, to improve communication, but it was very difficult. Almost impossible because many of the people in top positions consider themselves more important than the sport itself.”
“I already had my spotlight as a tennis player, I don’t need to have it again. That’s why I tried to focus on growing padel, educating the players, caring about them and helping them. But as it is now, there are too many people who only care about themselves instead of the sport and that causes a lot of damage. Everyone knows who I’m talking about. In the end the players are the ones who are going to suffer,” criticizes Johansson, who in addition to a Grand Slam, holds the 1998 Davis Cup with Sweden and the silver medal in doubles in Beijing 2008 (defeat in the final against Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka).
Johansson in January 2002 with the Australian Open trophy // AFP
“I had a lot of fun, it’s a very interesting job, but paddle is very complicated, especially in the professional level. The different tours don’t talk to each other and everything is a bit of a chaos. It will be interesting what will happen in 2023, because it is the last year where players have a contract with the World Paddle Tour (WPT),” he anticipates to CLAY in Saudi Arabia, where he was giving tennis clinics to Saudi children during the Diriyah Tennis Cup exhibition tournament. Back in the sport of a lifetime.
For a decade, the World Paddle Tour monopolized the discipline on a professional scale and, by contract, demanded exclusivity from its competitors. In 2022, Premier Padel, a new tour promoted by the International Paddle Federation and Qatar Sports Investments, burst into the scene and unleashed a storm.
With unprecedented prize money for the discipline and special treatment for athletes, Premier Padel managed to get a large percentage of the world’s best to break their contract with WPT and participate in its events, whose venues were another seduction factor for the competitors: the Foro Italico and Roland Garros were some of the places where Premier built courts surrounded by glass.
“We’ll see which tour gets stronger, and where players will want to play,” says the former world No. 7 in tennis, who was encouraged to play APT tournaments. Sweden’s Jonas Björkman completed the duo of paddle players converted from tennis at a tournament in their home country a year ago.
“I love paddle, it’s an amazing sport that has a very high potential, but we have to care about the sport and the players. I hope that will always be the case in the future. We have to look a little bit at what tennis has done, which is a much more organized sport. Although we should not copy it. Paddle has to find its own way. For me, padel has to be rock & roll, people walking around, loud music, be more of a show. We have to take advantage of the fact that padel is connecting people”.
PHOTO: Alexander Scheuber @alexanderscheuber / Diriyah Tennis Cup
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