Sunday, May 19, 2024

Padel brings joy to East Grinstead’s Sophie Bray

Olympic champion and multi-sport advocate Sophie Bray, who played a leading hand in guiding East Grinstead to a first women’s title last season, is the latest high-profile sporting figure to fall in love with padel. 

Sophie played in the inaugural ProAm Padel Tour event at Roehampton Club alongside Spanish pro Carla Fito. Sophie was named joint MVP alongside TalkSPORT presenter Simon Jordan. 

Since that event, which coincided with the end of the domestic hockey season, she has thrown herself into padel, playing two or three times a week at Rocks Lane in Chiswick.

“I’m loving it,” the 33-year-old tells The Padel Paper. “I’m enjoy the challenges of a new sport and overcoming the frustration it brings having to start at beginner level. 

“At the same time, there’s an opportunity of a steep improvement curve because it’s so new to me. People say padel is so addictive – and they’re absolutely right!” 

She retired from international hockey in February 2019, but continues to play for East Grinstead — Guadalupe Fernandes Lacort took over from her as captain in 2022 — and ending Surbiton’s run of eight straight wins. 

Padel has now filled the post-hockey season void for Sophie, who says the pro-am event has inspired her to get on court more regularly. 

She had previously only played a handful of times with her Great Britain, England and East Grinstead team-mate Laura Unsworth at London’s Harbour Club Chelsea – but is now totally absorbed. 

“I just love the fact the ball is in court so much of the time,” she states. “It’s very different to an 11-a-side game like hockey. You’re always in the point and your concentration levels have to be super high. 

“I also love that it’s very tactical. A power game can win you points, but control, accuracy and placement are also important. I love that anyone can play, but although it’s easy to pick up, it is really hard to master.” 

Sophie represented Surrey as a junior in tennis and is clearly enjoying reprising some of those skills on the padel court. She is intrigued at the prospect of testing herself in some summer tournaments and to “gauge how far away I might be” from the levels required in LTA events. 

She hasn’t yet decided whether to call time on her club hockey career with East Grinstead this summer, although the lure of qualifying for the EuroHockey Club Champions Cup next season may sway her decision.  

“It’s something I need to have a think about next season,” she says. “I don’t really know yet, I’m just concentrating on enjoying playing padel, then we’ll see.

Rio gold medallists Sophie Bray and Laura Unsworth

“My level of improvement can be quite quick at the moment. You go rapidly from picking up a racket, learning the rules, the names of the shots, to the tactics and when to play them.

“It is completely new, so that’s been a challenge I’ve enjoyed. It’s a fantastic way to keep fit over the summer months and there’s so much interaction on court because you’re so close to the other three players. You walk past tennis courts these days and I think, ‘God, it looks so big!’  

“Hopefully I can play the sport for a fair few more years. I’ll keep playing as long as I keep enjoying it, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Total Hockey

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