The tennis world is in mourning today after the announcement that former British number one Elena Baltacha died yesterday of liver cancer, aged just 30. Baltacha, who retired from professional tennis last November, revealed she had the illness just two months ago in March but received the diagnosis in January only a few weeks after marrying her fiancé and coach Nino Severino.
Severino said of his wife’s passing “We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally.” He added “She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness.” (BBC Sport)
Despite being diagnosed with a chronic debilitating liver condition aged 19, Baltacha who was born in Ukraine but raised in Perth, Scotland was British number one for nearly three years. She made her debut on the ITF circuit in 1997 and won two ITF tournaments in Felixstowe and Pamplona in 2002. In 2009 she broke into the worlds top 100 and then the top 50 the following year (career high of 49). Her best Grand Slam results came when she reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2002 and the Australian Open in 2005 and 2010. Overall she won eleven singles titles and was part of GB’s Fed Cup team for eleven years.
Together Baltacha and Severino developed the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis (EBAT) in Ipswich. British Tennis has announced that they will support the academy and through her legacy and passion to support and enable young children at the academy to play and enjoy tennis, her dream will live on. EBAT is a local grass-roots project designed to help girls from deprived areas of the city to develop their tennis skills.
Tributes are pouring in for Baltacha who was a well loved player on the womens tennis circuit
Current British number one Laura Robson tweeted: “Impossibly sad. Forever a team-mate. Sweet dreams Bally.”
Martina Navratilova, who won a record 18 Grand Slam Singles titles, including Wimbledon nine times, said: “Elena Baltacha was a great fighter on the tennis court. We as tennis players always worry about our bodies, trying to keep injuries at bay. But cancer – you can’t prevent that and you can’t rehab it either – and no matter how much of a fighter you are, sometimes cancer wins. Elena was taken from the world much too soon – fighting to the end and we will miss her.”
Eighteen-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert tweeted: “Rest in Peace, beautiful Elena Baltacha… No words… Thoughts and prayers…”
Billie Jean King, six times a Wimbledon singles champion, tweeted: “Saddened to hear about Elena Baltacha’s passing. My fondest memory with Bally was sharing a wonderful chat when we met the Queen at Wimbledon.”
Ian Bates, the Lawn Tennis Association’s head of women’s tennis, said: “We have lost a shining light from the heart of British tennis – a true role model, a great competitor and a wonderful friend. We have so many special memories to cherish, but this leaves a gaping hole for everybody in both British and women’s tennis, and words simply cannot express how saddened we are by this news.”
British number one Andy Murray, Ross Hutchins (himself in remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), veterans Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, Jamie Murray, Jonny Marray, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Navratilova had all already agreed to take part in a fundraising event, The Rally Against Cancer – Rally For Bally, prior to her death so the event will now go ahead in her memory on 15th June. The mixed doubles exhibition matches at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club, the Aegon Classic in Birmingham and the Aegon International in Eastbourne will raise money for the Royal Marsden national cancer charity and the Elena Baltacha Foundation.
Queen’s Club tournament director and GB Davis Cup player Hutchins told BBC Sport: “We all wanted the Rally for Bally to lift Elena, but now this special event will be held in her memory. She was a special person who will be remembered for positive things; a hard worker, a true professional and someone who gave so much back to the sport of tennis.”
FROM THE LTA WEBSITE: For more information on the ‘Rally for Bally’ which aims to raise funds for the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, as well as the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, please click here. Every penny raised will go towards supporting these incredible causes, and if you are able to donate, then please go to www.justgiving.com/RallyForBally or text EBAL60 plus the amount you would like to donate to 70070 (e.g. EBAL60 £10 to donate £10). See more information at the LTA website here
All information for this post has been sourced from BBC Sport/tennis and LTA websites.