PICTURED ABOVE: 1. Suárez poses with playing partner Leatu. 2. Suárez’s swollen arm, with a tear of the radial collateral ligament and a tendon tear, which will require surgery. 3. Suárez’s trophies from padel tournaments. 4. Suárez poses with playing partner Castaño-Mears. Photos provided by Alejandra Suárez.
Releasing the tennis ball from her hand, Upper School Spanish teacher Alejandra Suárez lets the ball bounce once before swinging her racket in a powerful underhand serve. The yellow ball soars over the net, bounces on the other side of the court and hits the glass wall.
But, unlike in tennis, the ball bounces back and the players resume. After all, this is not tennis, but padel tennis, a racquet sport played in doubles that uses walls, shorter racquets and smaller courts.
Suárez has been playing padel tennis competitively since February 2017, though she is now on a break due to an injury in her right elbow. However, this hasn’t stopped Suárez from chasing her dream of being named to the USA Padel Association’s Women’s National Team, an honor given to the top ten ranked padel players in the nation.
Suárez’s padel playing career began when she was still living in Mexico City.
“I started playing tennis when I was 17, but then padel tennis starting becoming very popular,” Suárez said. “It was really popular in Spain, Argentina, and Mexico, and was gaining popularity in the US in Miami and California.”
Quickly falling in love with padel, she began training and playing more competitively until one day, she was invited to a member of the Mexican National team for the Padel World Championship. However, she had to put her dream on hold.
“I was pregnant, and I was going to be eight months pregnant for the championship in Argentina, so unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go,” Suárez said. “So I did not get to compete on the Mexican National Team.”
Fast forward to 2016, when Suárez’s family moved from McKinney to a home in Dallas that was very close to a raquet club called T Bar M. Then, last February, Suárez found out that T Bar M was building padel courts—and she was ecstatic.
“I began playing against last February after not playing for 17 years,” Suárez said. “But, finding a partner was tricky, since there are not very many women who play.”
Suárez soon met Alexandra Leatu, who is currently the assistant Women’s Tennis Coach at Georgia State University. Leatu had played college tennis at Vanderbilt University for two years before transferring to Baylor University where she played for two more years.
“Tennis is a huge passion of mine but padel quickly became my new favorite sport after ending my career as a tennis player,” Leatu said. “I started playing padel while working at T Bar M. One evening while practicing with a group I met [Suárez] and we just clicked.”
Suárez and Leatu played together for a month before competing in Suárez’s first official USPA match, where the duo was slated to play against the then-first place seed in the US. Though Suárez and Leatu lost two close matches, both six to four, they both enjoyed the time they were able to play together.
“We have the same energy, enthusiasm and love for competition and made a great team,” Leatu said. “[Suárez] is an extremely supportive partner, can get really emotional because of her passion of the game, but never fails to compete to the best of her ability each match!”
After Leutu moved to Georgia to work as a coach, Suárez partnered up with Ana Castaño-Mears, a mechanical engineer who was new to padel prior to competing with Suárez. However, Suárez hurt her arm early last summer in an injury that had built up over time, forcing her to take a break from padel by the end of the summer.
“I tried to do everything possible. I visited four doctors and received a cortisone shot, but I kept playing. I have a high pain tolerance, but I think that by continuing to play I completely destroyed my arm,” Suárez said. “In the last tournament I played, I couldn’t even grip my racket.”
At this point, Suárez had been ranked in the top ten for women nationally, which would have made her eligible for the USPA Women’s National Team. However, because she has not played since the end of last summer, Suárez is currently at rank number 17.
Suárez hoped that the recovery of her injury will coincide with her receiving her US citizenship, which would allow her officially to be on the National Team.
“If I receive my citizenship and am still in top ten, I will be on the USA team,” Suárez said. “We already have shirts and everything, and my shirt is waiting for me if I can come back healthy!”
Unfortunately, Suárez received the results of an MRI scan in early March revealing that her injury is graver than she had initially thought. Due to a completely torn ligament and a separation of two bones, Suárez will be needing surgery this summer.
In the meantime, Suárez appreciates the joy that playing padel has brought her. According to her daughter, senior Fernanda Treviño Suárez, padel has been a way to bond with family.
“I can tell you that she truly does love the sport, not just the competitiveness, but also the fact that my family plays too,” Treviño Suárez said. “In the summer, when my brother was home from college, she had the opportunity of spending a lot of time with my brother doing something they both love!”
Indeed, Suárez affirms that her favorite part about playing padel is the social aspect.
“It’s not something where you go out and play two sets and leave. You come, and then other people want to play, so you’ll stay for five or six sets,” Suárez said. “People come together to play padel.”
Story by Elizabeth Guo, Managing Editor