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06 December 2023

Argentine grandmother revives tennis dream at 83

Ana Obarrio (AFP)


Ana Obarrio de Pereyra Iraola's dream of becoming a tennis star was put on hold in 1949 when her husband stopped her playing.

For the next 20 years, she concentrated on raising their 10 children instead.

But now at 83, this Argentine grandmother has revived her dream.

"I like to compete. I like to win," she says, sitting down in the heat at the Hurlingham sports club in Buenos Aires.

She spoke to AFP just after winning the Argentina Senior Masters in the 80-plus category.

Mixed doubles taboo

Obarrio's family indulged her love of tennis. She started playing as a girl and was a youth champion.

But the social mores of late 1940s Argentina got the better of her after she met her husband when she was 18.

Shortly afterwards, she gave up an opportunity to play in a major international tournament.

"My husband didn't like me playing mixed doubles with men... I didn't play again after that," she recalls.

"I don't regret it. I would do the same again. My first joy is my children. Tennis comes next."

She resumed playing with friends in her 40s.

In her 60s, after her husband's death, she started competing seriously again.

Precision shots

Obarrio trains three times a week on a court her family built for her at her country estate.

"She has the best style of play of anyone in her category," said Norma Baylon, an Argentine tennis star from the 1960s.

Argentina has about 1,000 competitive players in the seniors category - more than most countries.

"As players get older, the aim is to run less and achieve greater precision in their shots," says coach Roberto Alvarez, director of the Argentine Senior Masters 2016.

Obarrio plays in 1950s-style flat-soled white canvas shoes and stylized shorts and t-shirt that recall the days of her youth.

"I put on my shoes and feel the ground of the court," she says. "It gives me immense pleasure."

'Unusual grandmother'

Two of Obarrio's daughters and six of her grandchildren come to watch her beat an 80-year-old rival in their hour-long Masters final on the Hurlingham clay.

Obarrio ranks third in the country in her age group.

This year she aims to play in the seniors world championships in Florida.

"I am obsessed with winning that," she says.

Obarrio has 37 grandchildren.

"She is very free-spirited," says one of them, Lupe, 19, after watching her Masters victory.

"She is an unusual grandmother."