Brave Annabel Croft fighting back following the death of her beloved husband

Annabel Croft is a big fan of padel

Annabel Croft has said her late husband was a “huge fan” of Strictly Come Dancing but she will not be taking herself “too seriously” on the dancefloor.

The former British No 1 tennis player and broadcaster is among the star-studded line-up of the new series of the BBC’s flagship show.

Croft, who was the youngest Briton to compete in the Wimbledon Championships for almost a century at the age of 15 before becoming a junior champion at the tournament in 1984 at the age of 18, has said taking part in the show has “come at the right time for me” after announcing the death of her husband Mel Coleman, who had been diagnosed with cancer in May.

She told the PA news agency: “I’m so excited to be taking part in the programme. I’ve always been a big fan of the show, my husband was a really huge fan of it.

“So (it’s) just exciting to do a new challenge and have fun in the process. Not take myself too seriously.”

Croft, who is an ambassador for Game4Padel, was speaking at the launch of the new court at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in London and said she hopes the new facility encourages more people to take it up.

She said: “I think it’s slightly easier to play than tennis, tennis has a lot of different elements to it.

“Padel is a different type of bat, it sounds really good when you play. You can have some really fun rallies, you get some really good rallies going with your partners, you always play doubles and you laugh a lot. I’ve always enjoyed playing padel.”

She added: “It’s a little bit different to tennis, it’s great fun. I think I find myself laughing a lot more on a padel court.

“You just come out and have fun. Anyone can play. It’s very inclusive. You don’t need to be a member to come and play here.”

Padel is one of the fastest-growing sports in Europe and is Spain’s second most popular sport after football.

The cross between tennis and squash is played mainly in a doubles format on an enclosed court that is two-thirds the size of a tennis court.

Andy Murray, David Beckham, and Lionel Messi are among the high-profile fans of the sport and Croft told Tennis365 that she believes the sport is destined to break through into the mainstream.

“There is a lot of momentum behind it now,” said Croft. “You hear more and more people talking about it. I hear lots of young people talking about padel and wanting to get into it.

“It really feels like the game is on an upward curve. It can engage with people who might find tennis too difficult and that’s the beauty of padel.

“Each time I play padel, I come off with a big smile on my face. It is very similar skills to tennis because of all the volleying and the touch and feel.

“I haven’t quite mastered the back wall yet, but it is a very social game. There are always a lot of smiles on court and it is a great game. I really enjoy it.”

READ MORE: Annabel Croft speaks to Tennis365 on the rapid rise of padel

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