The Collegian
Thursday, September 21, 2023

Arana family stays together in Richmond, on the court

Siblings Pablo, Isabel and Rafa Arana, from Mexico City, all play tennis for Richmond.
Siblings Pablo, Isabel and Rafa Arana, from Mexico City, all play tennis for Richmond.

It's not often that you come across a family full of tennis players, but the Aranas are full of them.

Few students in Mexico leave the country to attend university or play collegiate sports, but twins Isabel and Pablo Arana and their cousin Rafa Arana all came from Mexico to play on the University of Richmond men and women's tennis teams.

Sitting together in 8:15 at Boatwright, the Aranas laughed and joked with each other as if they were all siblings.

"I mean, Rafa has basically lived in my house," Pablo said. "I always had sisters, and he had one sister, so he was like the only brother I had."

Rafa agreed, saying that the three had been living together their whole lives.

"We live like five minutes away from each other back home," he said. "[Isabel] lived in my house in Florida for two years."

When Rafa was 14 years old, he moved to the United States to attend Saddlebrook Preparatory School, a small tennis academy in Wesley Chapel, Fla. Two years later, Isabel joined him.

"We've always sort of lived together, so it's good to have him here," Isabel said.

Rafa's mother still lives in Florida, so when he returns to Mexico City he stays with Isabel and Pablo.

"I just go over [to their house] and eat and don't even tell their mom," Rafa said. "I'm basically just sitting down when she comes in."

Rafa and Isabel looked at American universities at the same time, she said. Isabel was impressed with Richmond's E. Claiborne Robins School of Business and was offered a tennis scholarship.

"I really liked the tennis coach and the team," she said, "so that was it."

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Rafa came, looked at the school and decided to come as well, which made Isabel very happy, she said.

"And then [Pablo] followed," Rafa said. "He couldn't live without [Isabel]."

The American college system is very different from the system in Mexico, where students live with their parents while attending college, she said.

"People actually stay in their homes until they get married," Pablo said. The Aranas agreed that people are warmer and closer to each other in Mexico than in the United States.

"Some people ask why we're so close, but that's just the way we were brought up, and here people are far apart," Rafa said. "You get to college and you move away from home [in the United States]. And people at home sometimes make fun of it because everyone's used to living in their own homes."

The collegiate sports system is also very different in Mexico than in the United States, Isabel said.

"There's really no such thing as a college circuit [in Mexico]," Pablo said. "There's not a lot of support from Mexican colleges to sports. For example, if you miss class, you don't get extensions or they don't justify it."

The sports programs in Mexico aren't nearly as good as they are in the United States, Isabel said.

"Everyone who plays a sport gets out of the country and comes to the U.S.," Rafa said. "If we wanted to play tennis, we couldn't have stayed there."

When it comes to competing, Isabel and Pablo tend not to play matches against each other.

"We don't actually play together because we live in the same house," Pablo said. But Isabel said that one time, she and one of her teammates destroyed Pablo and Rafa in a doubles match. Rafa tried to make excuses, but Isabel wouldn't accept them.

But Pablo and Rafa do compete against each other because they are both on Richmond's men's tennis team.

"It gets pretty heated," Rafa said. "He cheats all the time."

Pablo denied the accusation saying: "[Rafa's] just kind of blind sometimes. When we compete, there are some days that we can't even see each other til the next day. It's like 'I'll see you tomorrow.'"

But who usually wins the epic matches?

"Let's leave that unanswered," Pablo said.

Playing on a tennis team is an American concept that is unheard of in Mexico, the three said.

"Back at home, tennis is not a team sport at all," Pablo said. "It's so individual. You go to your tournaments and you just hate every single guy that you compete against."

The first time Isabel and Rafa ever played on a tennis team was during their time at Saddlebrook.

"It's so much better to know that you have something to grab on to," Pablo said. "For example: You might lose, but your team can still win."

Isabel said: "At the same time though, you could win and your team loses anyway. You have to think about the team more than you."

The Aranas don't plan on playing tennis professionally outside of college, and Pablo and Rafa plan on returning to Mexico City.

Pablo said he missed the beach in Mexico, and Rafa said he missed the big city. Isabel said she might stay in the United States.

"It depends on what I do," she said. "In the long term, maybe I'll end up in Mexico, but if I get a job here I might stay."

It's possible that the Arana legacy might not end with these three players. Rafa has a younger sister who plays tennis.

"We might have a fourth one here," he said. "After all these family members, they should just [make] the Arana Tennis Center."

Contact reporter Ryan Clark at

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