At 89 professional tennis player Ana Obarrio racks up senior tournament wins

Today, I prepare for my next competition in Mallorca in 2023. I train daily playing with friends and try to keep it fun. When they ask me how long I will do this, I say, “As long as my body allows it.” I do not think about my age, and it causes no impediment. In fact, it helps me.

  • 1 year ago
  • December 29, 2022
7 min read
Eighty-nine-year-old professional tennis player Ana Obarrio with her grandchildren | Photo courtesy of Ana Obarrio
Interview Subject
Ana Obarrio, 89, is recognized for her career as a professional tennis player and travels the world thanks to the sport that she is passionate about. She has 10 children and 37 grandchildren. She is an outstanding Argentine tennis player, one of the best in the initial stage of women’s tennis in her country. At the age of 18, she left tennis for love and dedicated herself to raising her 10 children, but at 60 she picked up a racket again and now she competes in the 80+ category.
Background Information
The World Health Organization presented the “Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030: More Active People for a Healthier World.” It is a tool that provides countries with possible pathways to reduce physical inactivity in adults and adolescents by 15 percent by 2030. It recommends a set of 20 regulatory measures that, combined, aim to create more active societies by improving the environments and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to spend more time walking or cycling, playing sports, or creative leisure like dancing or playing.

According to the WHO, globally, one in five adults and four in five adolescents (between 11 and 17 years) do not perform enough physical activity. In addition, it implies large costs for health systems: physical inactivity is estimated to cost the US $54 billion in direct health care, of which 57 percent corresponds to the public sector and an additional US $14 billion is attributable to low productivity.

In Argentina, 55 percent of the population is sedentary, according to the latest National Survey of Risk Factors (2013) of the National Ministry of Health. In adolescents from 13 to 15 years old, on the other hand, less than 20 percent perform the physical activity suggested for their age.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ꟷ At 89 years old, I play tennis three times a week and participate in the annual national tournament of the Argentina Tennis Association (ATA). When I feel tired, I go play.

My curiosity about tennis began as a young teenager. A loyal tennis fan, my father practiced constantly. On one of those occasions, I wanted to start playing. Years later, in 1948, I joined the federation as a professional tennis player. In those days, I trained at the San Isidro Club. I felt ready to move into higher levels of competition, but something stopped me.

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Though I trained constantly from the ages of 13 to 18 and took part in championships, I got married and had the first of 10 children. My passion took a back seat. Then, in my forties, my husband passed away and I began playing nonstop. I went on to win the Senior Master’s Tournament in Argentina in my eighties.

Today, at 89 years old, I have 38 grandchildren and tennis gives me purpose in my life. It motivates me and brings me happiness, energy, and health.

Young woman gives up tennis for family, now she travels the world competing

As a woman, I endured many barriers growing up in the sport. I remember my mother sewing me a pair of shorts to play tennis in. The entire club went into a frenzy. They called me crazy for wearing shorts, but I did not give a damn.

At a young age, professionals recognized me as a player of a great promise in Argentina, but my dreams were cut short by the love I felt for my husband. Scheduled to play in a very important competition, I paired up with an Italian tennis champion. My husband disliked me playing mixed doubles with men, so I dropped out. From then on, I stopped playing, but I do not regret my choice. I would do it again.

My first happiness in life comes from my children, then from tennis. I raised ten kids which I gave birth to almost consecutively. They needed my time and attention. After my husband passed, in my forties, I managed to make space for myself again in professional tennis.

I began playing and competing. Taking on tournaments, I had the opportunity to compete in Croatia, Austria, and Turkey. In 2017, I earned my best ranking by finishing third in the world in my tournament. For 15 years, I have traveled the world with a friend. Not only do I get to play tennis, but we take the opportunity to stay and enjoy the location. This game has given me new friends everywhere I go.

Inside the mind of a lifelong competitor

When I got married at 18 years old, I exchanged one passion for another. I decided to follow the man I love and start a family. As the years passed and we had children, tennis took a backseat. When my husband died at 60 years old and I became widowed, I wondered, “Do I dare to play tennis again?”

I had not made up my mind about competing when a friend pointed out how well I was playing. “You should sign up for the championships,” my friend told me. From then on, I never stopped. When I go onto the court, I never lower my arms. I follow the impulse of my desires. I often say, it feels like dancing a ballet.

89-year-old professional tennis player Ana Obarrio swings the racket | Photo courtesy of Ana Obarrio

Sports teach us so much about life. We learn the value of competition, losing, and winning. Sports give us a sense of well-being, energy, and pleasure. The act transcends the physical experience. The mental part of it remains extremely important. It activates your neurons, and you must prepare to make decisions and react quickly. This prepares us for life in general.

Tennis includes strategies. You must watch the opponent to see how they move and where you need to send them. It is more than simply hitting a ball. When I win, I feel so happy about what I achieved – like an answer to all my effort. When I lose, I think about how to win next time and how to improve. Being competitive remains a fundamental part of my character.

When I started traveling over a decade ago, I had the chance to get to know the world. I went in a hot air balloon and a helicopter. I met people from all over. Tennis opened me up to the world around me.

The dream continues in 2023

Today, I prepare for my next competition in Mallorca in 2023. I train daily playing with friends and try to keep it fun. When they ask me how long I will do this, I say, “As long as my body allows it.” I do not think about my age, and it causes no impediment. In fact, it helps me.

Life certainly gives us second chances. It gave me a second chance to play tennis. Likewise, competing in world competitions has been a second chance for me. The first time I played against England happened during a tournament in Croatia. Right there, during the last goal, an English woman beat me. From that moment on, I could not stop thinking about a reunion match. I wanted my victory, and I got it.

Playing a tournament in Palm Beach, Florida, once again, I faced off against England but this time, I won the game. I played well from the beginning right through the final moments. To me, rematches are very important. I focus solely on the game, not thinking about anything else, which can be a challenge for me.

Having a winning mentality often personifies professional athletes but playing a sport well cannot be the only factor. You must mentally and emotionally position yourself to win. Before the game, my mind must be sure about the win, but I also must stay calm. The latter is key when facing tough competition. One’s personal life cannot interrupt the game.

Going into 2023, I face an important match in Mallorca, Spain, in the 85-year-old division, even though I am closer to 90. Mentally, I already placed myself on that island, thinking about how to win. I do not cave to obstacles. I must continue and search out my dreams. When I walk on the court, my world stops and my body fills with joy. I hold the racket and feel empowered. I put on my shoes, and when I feel the floor of the tennis court beneath them, pleasure fills me.

At the end of the day, I go where life takes me.

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